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Koster's Office Issues Restraining Order Against Towing Company for Allegedly Defrauding Customers

http://ozarkspub.vo.llnwd.net/o37/KSMU/audio/mp3/kosters-office-issues-restraining-order-against-towing-company-allegedly-defrauding-customers_15112.mp3

A temporary restraining order has been issued against a Kansas City area towing company by Missouri Attorney General Chris Koster. Independence Tow & Recovery, Inc. has been charged with violating the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act after the tornado that hit Joplin on May 22. KSMU’s Rebekah Clark reports.

In a press release issued from the Attorney General’s office, Koster says the company towed damaged vehicles and trailers, and then demanded owners to pay far more than the market price for the labor. The AG’s office is also accusing the company of towing vehicles without permission from owners.

One person who complained was Ron Feenstra, who works for a trucking company named ALTL Transportation and Supply Chain Management.

Feenstra said that the tow company asked to move one of his damaged trucks after the storm. When he called to recover the vehicle, Independence Tow & Recovery had transported it to Kansas City without his authorization. He also said that they charged him over $12,000 for their services.

“Well, they would not release our truck from their lot until the bill was paid in full. We checked with some other towing services and even our local towing services because I felt that this would probably be about a $2000 bill to take place. I was very discouraged when I found out that they would not lower their bill after talking with them.”

Feenstra said, as of June 13th, the bill had not changed. He’s trying to work through his company’s insurance to resolve the problem.

“It sounds like the insurance company is kind of at their wits’ end and they are ready to just settle and pay this large amount of money that we’re being charged for just to settle the case and get our truck released, but I kind of hate to do that because that is giving in. That is letting them get their way.”

Doug Ommen is the Consumer Protection Division Chief in the Attorney General’s office. He said that because of the damage caused by the storm, many consumers have been allowing tow companies to clean debris without first investigating the price.

“Consumers and other business owners not negotiating at that point the price term, the towing company then takes those vehicles and upon that point making demand for pretty extraordinarily high prices in costs associated with those towing services.”

The order forbids Independence Tow & Recovery, Inc. from conducting business around Joplin, and from disposing or relocating any vehicles without permission from the owners. It also prevents the company from getting rid of any documents related to towing.

In the release, Koster said it’s unfortunate that there are always those who take advantage of unsuspecting consumers during tragic times. He said he wanted to assure those victims that his office will be “aggressive” in going after these businesses engaged in illegal behavior. Ommen agrees, saying that there have been other situations like this one since the storm hit.“We have received other reports, again because of the huge need of debris removal, of other towing companies that are coming into the area to provide some of those services. Yes, we have had some other complaints, and we are continuing to investigate those matters as well.”

An attorney for Independence Tow & Recovery, Inc. issued a statement late last week addressing the allegations. Nicholas Porto from Kansas City said in that statement that the company was lawfully dispatched to Joplin after the storm, and that – quote-- “any exploitation of the victims of this horrific event is reprehensible.” – End quote. The statement also said that the company takes the Attorney General’s allegations very seriously, and that the company denied that it had done anything wrong in Joplin.

For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.

ANCHOR TAG:The Attorney General’s office is warning Missourians to look out for scammers and price-gouging. Consumers who suspect price-gauging or scam artists following the tornado in Joplin can call 1-800-392-8222 with complaints.