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Fake out: How to avoid staged car accidents

By Ryan Hurlbert on June 15th, 2010
Auto Insurance

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), fraudulent auto accident claims increased 46 percent between 2007 and 2009. During this same time period, the ratio of questionable bodily injury (BI) and personal injury protection (PIP) claims to total injury claims has also increased; however, the overall number of BI and PIP claims has declined.

Common fraudulent accident types

The most common types of fraudulent accidents are the: swoop and squat, side swipe, panic stop, and drive down.

Swoop and squat

In this fraudulent accident scheme two or three criminal vehicles target one innocent victim. Two vehicles pull directly in front of the victim, the lead "swoop" car then slows or stops suddenly. The second, or "squat car" then stops suddenly, and the victim has no time to stop and rear-ends the squat car. The swoop car leaves the scene, and although he "caused the accident" the only person there to take the blame is the victim. Three or four criminals in the squat car then claim to be injured.

Side swipe

Criminals in this scenario frequent an intersection where two lanes turn left. One criminal takes the outside lane, with the victim in the inside lane. If the victim drifts close to the outside lane, the criminal turns into them and gets sideswiped. Often, a witness who just happened to be standing on the corner tells police the inside car drifted out. All of the passengers in the criminal's car claim they are injured.

Panic stop

An older vehicle full of passengers drives down the road, while a rear-seat passenger watches the victim behind them. As soon as the innocent driver is distracted, perhaps by a cell phone call or reaching for a cup of coffee, the driver of the lead car slams on his brakes. The innocent driver is unable to stop in time, and rear-ends the car in front. Of course, all of the passengers in the car claim to suffer from injuries.

Drive down

There are several versions of the drive down, but they all work in the same way. In a merging situation, or where someone would turn into or out of traffic, the criminal motions the victim to "go ahead". As soon as the victim commits, the criminal speeds up and slams into the victim's car. Often there are witnesses to counter the victim's claim that they were waved in. According to the NICB, this is often used against women driving alone near shopping malls.

How criminals profit from fraudulent claims

In the most common fraudulent accident scenarios, criminals claim to have been injured as a result of the staged collision. In order to get the maximum payoff from auto insurance companies, criminals often enlist the help of dishonest health care providers to overstate the cost to treat non-existent or exaggerated injuries. These fake injuries lead to thousands of dollars in fraudulent treatments--all billed to insurance carriers.

Tips to help you avoid becoming a victim

Protecting yourself from this kind of fraud is simple. Seniors and women driving alone are targeted most often, and should be extra vigilant. Here are several tips to avoid becoming the victim of a fraudulent accident:

  • Don't tailgate: Leave lots of space between you and the vehicle ahead of you, and if another car merges into that space back off and create new space.
  • Call the police even if the damage is minimal: Get the officer's name and obtain a copy of the police report. Criminals often cause additional damage to their vehicle after the accident to get a bigger claim, and if the officer's report list "a scratch" it is harder to claim a huge dent later.
  • Carry a disposable camera in your car: Using a disposable camera, or a cell phone camera, document the damage to both vehicles, the people involved, and the position of each car relative to the road and each other.
  • Beware of people who appear at the scene and want to help you find a good doctor or lawyer: Often those who offer such referrals are part of the scam.
  • Unscrupulous physicians: Be wary of any physician who insists you file a personal injury claim after an accident, even if you are not injured.

Everyone pays the cost of fraudulent claims through increased premiums. Doing what you can to minimize fraud could save you money in the long run, and may also provide a measure of satisfaction because you know you stopped a criminal.

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