The Montana Highway Patrol is warning drivers in Missoula and Billings about call centers who are posing as local tow truck companies.

Spokesman for the Montana Justice Department, John Barnes, provided details about the scam operations.

“The Highway Patrol has been receiving reports about some fake towing companies out there,” began Barnes. “There are unfortunately some bad actors out there who are taking advantage of people in difficult situations. Say you’re stranded on the side of the road and you turn to the modern equivalent of the Yellow Pages on your phone and you call a company that pops up. There are plenty of legitimate towing companies out there, but the fake ones do a pretty good job of looking legitimate until you start to dig deeper.”

Barnes provided some clues that will help determine which companies are fakes.

“One indication is if they demand payment ahead of time, which is not a normal practice, while legitimate towing companies will charge you at the time of service,” he said. “This time of year it’s a real concern with the inclement weather, and if you’re stranded on the side of the road you need a legitimate towing company, instead of your call going to a call center that’s trying to rip you off.”

Fake tow company websites will tend to look generic, with stock photos and few specifics about the business. These sites are put up in a hurry, so text on their website may have spelling or punctuation errors. Their goal is to get you to call right away so they can get your payment information so everything will direct you to a contact.

Barnes said the first and most important step is to never provide your credit card number until the time of service.

In addition, Barnes said legitimate towing companies are required to have proper identification through the Montana Highway Patrol.

“Towing companies doing business in our state must be inspected annually by the Highway Patrol,” he said. “Each one of these companies is going to have a letter of appointment from the Highway Patrol, and each legitimate truck is going to have an inspection sticker in the window.”

Barnes said it is the responsibility of each driver to familiarize themselves with the legitimate towing companies in the area.

“If you have questions, you can go to the Montana Highway Patrol’s website and contact the office in your particular district, and that’s how you can identify legitimate tow truck companies,” he said. “You can also call the state Office of Consumer Protection at 1-800-481-6896. Call to identify legitimate businesses, but also to report any scams to which they’ve become a victim.”