HOUSTON – Houston police say a Houston towing company was caught tricking a driver into signing work orders for repairs. The practice is called flipping. Even though Houston police will no longer allow the company to tow vehicles from its accident scenes, Frontline Towing and Recovery is still operating in Houston.
KPRC2 consumer expert Amy Davis tried to speak with the owner of Frontline at a city hearing where the company's contract with Houston police was revoked, but Jossue Molina walked away.
"Could you just slow down for a second?" Davis asked the man.
"Are you Mr. Molina or what's your name?" she asked.
"My name's Norman.
Davis later confirmed the man was actually Jossue Molina.
Investigators say his company towed a vehicle to a body shop it also owns instead of to a vehicle storage facility.
"The reason that cars towed from a wreck are taken to a vehicle storage facility is sort of as a safe harbor," explained Michael Shirk of the Texas Department of Licensing & Regulation.
Vehicle storage facilities are regulated by the state. Fees are capped. They are required to keep certain records. But if a wrecker takes your car to a repair shop instead, they can charge you whatever they want. There are no regulations.
Deceiving drivers into signing documents to authorize repair work is called flipping.
"Unfortunately, things are always bigger in Houston," said Shirk. "Ninety percent of our flipping cases occur in the Harris County area."
Attorney Jonathan Bruce represents Frontline and Molina. Bruce said the driver whose vehicle was redirected to a repair shop signed a paper consenting to the move.
"If you sign a contract, if you didn't bother to read it, unfortunately, you're bound by the terms of the contract. You're an adult. You should read what you sign," Bruce told Davis.
"Not exactly your own fault," said HPD Senior Officer Larry Vaugn of HPD Auto Dealers Unit. "You were led to believe that you were signing something that you weren't."
You should remember you don't have to sign anything to get your vehicle towed to a vehicle storage facility after an accident or if you break down in the city of Houston. Police will direct the wrecker driver to tow your car to a vehicle storage facility. After that, you can decide with your insurance company where to have it repaired.
If you believe you were tricked into repairs you didn't authorize and a wrecker towed your vehicle to a body shop, call HPD Auto Dealers at (832) 394-4810.