SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — It’s a scam that’s resulted in hundreds of stolen cars and in major cities across the country.

Tow truck bandits show up at an accident before police and paramedics, tow away the cars, and hold them for ransom.

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The ransoms are hefty sums, too.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, tow truck scams are happening in San Francisco, New York City, Houston, Chicago and Los Angeles.

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The bandits target their prey by listening in on police scanners. Once they have possession of a vehicle. At the scene of the accident, they tell the drivers the tow is covered by insurance and provide paperwork to sign that gives them control of the cars.

The cars are then held at body shops until the driver agrees to pay rates of up to $4000 for towing and storage.

Los Angeles has accounted for 42% of the reported cases in the past 18 months.

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