JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax Investigates what a local mother calls a towing scam after she was stuck on the side of the road in desperate need of help and instead was taken for a ride by a fake business she found on Google.
“How often do you think back to what happened?” Action News Jax Ben Becker asked Joy Conway.
“I think about it a lot when I’m driving,” Conway said.
Conway was stranded on the side of Roosevelt Boulevard in Orange Park with her 6-year-old daughter in the back seat after her car started having problems as she was crossing the Buckman Bridge.
“I hoped I would make it off this exit and make it somewhere safe,” Conway said.
Conway pulled over and Googled “tow truck companies near me” and she discovered what she thought was a local company called, Extreme Towing, and paid $217.35 with her credit card.
But apparently, there are two Extreme Towing’s in our area -- or are there?
It turns out Conway was the victim of a new kind of scam -- one Extreme Towing was real, the other was fake and never showed up.
James Robinson has been the real owner of Extreme Towing for 18 years.
Robinson said he didn’t realize there was an issue until he started checking his Google reviews.
One says, “James was great” but another intended for the fake company and said, “horrible.”
“They’re [victims] calling another company that isn’t even a company. They’re out of Texas, and they’re just a scam,” Robinson said. “And then I put two and two together. These bad reviews kind of add up. And they [victims] said, by the way, nobody speaks English. I speak English, I mean, maybe country English.”
Here’s how the scam works: According to law enforcement, the crooks use photos of buildings to give their fake business a local presence online.
However, when you call the number listed for the business - -which appears to be local - you are connected to a call center whose representatives ask for your credit card information.
Becker tried to get a tow. “What’s your address in Jacksonville?” he asked as an operator hung up the phone.
Then Robinson’s driver Jacob Newburn gave it a try by calling and describing a fictional truck, where it was located, and the color.
“Yeah, it’s a 2010 Chevrolet 2500, I’m off to 295 and Collins Road and it’s pink,” Newburn said.
The scammers asked to be paid $300.
“You want me to pay for a service upfront that hasn’t been provided?” Newburn asked before the person on the other line hung up again.
Collins Road is the listed address on Google for the faux Extreme Towing, so Becker drove there to get some answers, but instead it was the location of a concrete contractor.
Becker emailed Google to ask what it’s doing about preventing fake companies from showing up in searches and was directed to their terms and conditions page, where you can report alleged copyright infringement.
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As for Conway, she will be extra careful next time.
“I realize it can take an extra call or extra minute to figure something out before I make a quick decision if I’m on the side of road or not,” Conway said.
The good news is because Conway used a credit card, she was able to dispute the charge. Robinson warns you should never pay a tow company money upfront and that payment should always be made when the ride is completed.