Scammers fleece drivers who break down on French roads out of €3,000

These ‘breakdown pirates’ are becoming more common. Here is how to avoid falling victim

A view of a breakdown mechanic securing a car to a breakdown van
These ‘breakdown pirates’ swoop in to ‘help’ the driver of the broken-down car before the genuine mechanics arrive
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Drivers in France are warned to be alert to a rising number of breakdown mechanic scammers, who “profit from the client’s distress” to charge thousands of euros over the odds for roadside assistance.

These scammers - dubbed ‘breakdown pirates’ - swoop in to ‘help’ the driver of the broken-down car before their insurance company or breakdown assistance company have time to send their own, genuine mechanics.

GPS app reports

They do this by monitoring driving and GPS apps to check for cars that are reported as ‘stopped’ on the side of the road. Many driving apps invite users to report stopped cars along major roads as a safety measure. These reports are then visible to all users.

However, this means that scammers can see - in real time - if any cars are stopped on the side of the road, and can target these vehicles by offering them breakdown assistance.

Drivers - who may be in a state of distress and vulnerable at the side of the road, and have already likely called for breakdown assistance - may not think to check that the breakdown service is genuine.

Read also: What is the procedure if my car breaks down on a French motorway?

The scammers help the driver and their vehicle, but then charge well over the usual price for their services, with some bills reported to be as much as €3,000, said TF1.

One driver explained how he fell victim to a scam, when a breakdown lorry appeared just moments after he had finished calling his insurance company. He was later charged €282 for the rescue despite his insurance firm saying the recovery would be free. It was then that he realised he had been scammed.

“As soon as the software shows that the vehicle has broken down, [the scammers] arrive and pretend to be the breakdown mechanic, the insurance company or the police assistance unit,” Luc Le Baron, vice-president of the breakdown services branch of the Mobilians trade association, to La Dépêche.

"These people are taking advantage of the customer's distress.”

Genuine breakdown companies outside of drivers’ insurance plans do exist, but they will always be upfront with clients about their costs.

How can I avoid this scam? 

  • Check the information provided by your insurance or breakdown company if you call them

  • Be alert to breakdown lorries which appear suspiciously quickly

  • Check the documentation and ID of breakdown mechanics, to see if they match your insurance or breakdown company. Call your company again if necessary

  • Be alert to trucks or vans without any company branding, name, or telephone number on them

  • Ask about fees and extra charges, and/or agree a flat rate, before you accept help