Phantom Towing: Crooks "towing" your car and selling it for scra - | WBTV Charlotte

Phantom Towing: Crooks "towing" your car and selling it for scrap metal


Drivers, beware! Police say the Charlotte area is a hotspot for something you've probably never heard of - we hadn't.

Criminals are posing as tow companies. They're selling your cars to local junk yards. By the time you figure it out, it's likely your car was crushed into scrap metal.

WBTV uncovered a state law that actually makes it easier for criminals to commit this crime.

Metal prices are like the stock market, changing by the second. When they're high, experts say it becomes a prime time for thieves to steal your car.

Scott Smith calls his 1992 pickup truck a family heirloom, one his dad bought twenty years ago.  Only, Scott and his fiancee Cinda haven't seen it for weeks, and won't ever see it again.

"It just devastated me. Still bothers me every day. I come out and don't see my truck here anymore," Smith said.

Just a few weeks ago, the couple was driving into Charlotte when the truck began to shake. The couple did what anyone would; they called a tow truck. They left with another family member, knowing the tow would arrive within minutes.

"I don't sleep because it stays on my mind," Cinda said.

When the tow arrived minutes later, Smith's truck was long gone!  It had been picked up by a separate tow truck, something police call a "phantom" tow truck.  Police say Clifford and Thomas Burrows are to blame.

Police say the brothers took the truck to Gilbert Iron and Steel in Charlotte. The scrap yard owner, tells WBTV he had no idea it was stolen when he bought it from the brothers. As soon as he found out, police were notified.

"I'm sure they aren't the only ones doing it. I'm, sure this goes on all the time," Smith said. 

Sgt. Richard Tonsberg is in charge when it comes to stolen cars at CMPD headquarters. He says last year more than 200 cars and trucks had the same fate as Scott Smith's.

"We're not in the business of putting businesses out of business that are legitimate. The salvage yards are legitimate they are not the problem. It's the wrecker drivers coming in. We want to put them out of business," he said. 

How did the Burrows brothers, according to police, steal, and sell Scott Smith's truck to a scrap yard with no paperwork? Thanks to a North Carolina law, any vehicle more than ten years old does not need proof of title for it to be scrapped. 

"North Carolina needs to change the law," Cinda said.

State Representative Tim Moore is trying to change the law.

His proposal calls for a three day holding period before the scrap yards can crush vehicles, and also wants owners to have access to a real time database to know if a car is stolen. 

Right now, scrap yard owners in Mecklenburg County get a daily "hot list" of stolen vehicles, but it's not updated minute by minute.

"The folks who least can afford to be having their things stolen are the victims of these crimes, and that's what's happening time and time again," Moore said.

Meanwhile, Scott Smith says it'll take time to get over what happened, and the fact that state law is not on his side. 

"They could back up in my yard, pick my vehicle up and take off with it without any paper and documentation and all they got to do is tell scrap yard it's not stolen," Smith said. 

Moore wants local law enforcement and scrap yards to share the same database, where the yard automatically enters the vehicle identification number in the system when a car is purchased. That will show if a car is stolen. We'll keep you posted.

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