By a Biometrica staffer
Between 2015 and 2017, two ringleaders of a gang in New Orleans allegedly staged at least 100 accidents in a scam that was targeted at defrauding trucking and insurance companies. As part of a federal investigation into intentional collisions with trucks, seven people were charged for staging two accidents with tractor-trailers in New Orleans, bringing the number of indictments under the investigation to 40, Transport Topics reported on Sept. 15, Wednesday. That’s but one example of these types of scams that appear to be on the rise. The Covid-19 pandemic has also resulted in an increasing number of fraudulent claims targeting the trucking industry, according to an Automotive Fleet blog.
Staged crashes first emerged in the United States in the 1990s, per that blog. Since then, it has grown significantly and, today, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) calls such schemes a “big business,” and warns the public to watch out for telltale signs in order to prevent becoming a victim. The challenge for the layman, unfortunately, is that automobile accidents are all too common in the country, so it can be hard to differentiate genuine ones from those that are not. Accidents are a daily occurrence on the streets and cost the insurance industry billions of dollars in paid accident claims each year.
But fraudulent automobile accidents also occur more frequently that we may realize, especially in the urban areas that scammers tend to target more, under the presumption that wealthier communities will have better insurance. Criminals are also said to target new, rental, or commercial vehicles more than any others because, once again, they are typically well-insured. As with other scams, they also tend to target women or senior drivers who are driving alone more than any other group, as they consider them to be less confrontational.
In today’s piece, we take a look at some common modi operandi of staged accident scammers, and what you can do to prevent yourself from falling prey to such frauds.
According to the NICB, there are some common staged accident scams that you can look out for. Here’s a quick look at them:
Left Turn Drive Down —
Under this scam, say you are driving down a four-lane road preparing to make a left hand turn. As you stop to make the turn, a driver heading the other way slows to a stop, and waves to you to go on ahead and turn. But as you move ahead to complete the turn, the driver who waved you through suddenly moves forward blocking your entrance to the parking lot. To avoid an accident, you stop.
However, another car coming down the road slams into the side of your car. The car blocking the entrance leaves the scene making it appear as though you are at fault for pulling into oncoming traffic. The driver and passengers of the car that crashed into you will all claim you pulled into traffic when it wasn’t clear, and they will all claim injuries. As a result, a claim is filed against your insurance company to pay the criminals and unless someone suspects fraud and investigates further, the criminals cash in.
Right Turn Drive Down —
In this scenario, imagine you pull up to an intersection preparing to make a right-hand turn. You start to make the turn when suddenly another vehicle runs into the back-left side of your car. The driver and passengers of the car that crashed into you will all state you pulled into traffic when it wasn’t clear and they will all claim injuries. Seemingly at fault, a claim is filed against your insurance company to pay the criminals and, unless someone suspects fraud and investigates further, the criminals cash in.
Curb Drive Down —
Let’s say you were parked and are attempting to pull away from a curb and merge into traffic. Suddenly, a car crosses from the left lane and deliberately crashes into you. The driver and passengers of the car that crashed into you will all claim you pulled into traffic when it wasn’t clear and they will all claim injuries. As a result, a claim is filed against your insurance company to pay the criminals and unless someone suspects fraud and investigates further, the criminals cash in.
On an ordinary city street, this typically involves three vehicles, two driven by criminals and the third by an innocent victim. The driver of the “squat” vehicle pulls in front of the victim’s car. The driver of the “swoop” vehicle pulls in front of the squat vehicle, causing the driver of the squat vehicle to hit his brakes. The victim cannot react in time and rear-ends the squat vehicle. The swoop vehicle races off and is not seen again. The victim then typically is responsible for any vehicle damage and personal injury to passengers in the squat vehicle.
On a freeway or expressway, similar to the case above, four vehicles are typically involved, with three belonging to criminals. In this variation, the third criminal boxes in the victim so he cannot change lanes when the swoop vehicle cuts off the squat vehicle. Following the crash, the swoop and box-in cars speed off, again forcing the victim’s insurer to pay the claim.
Some other kinds of modi operandi, per Automotive Fleet, include phony injuries and jump-ins. Phony injury scams typically happen when you may find yourself on the hook for injuries you didn’t cause. The criminal and accomplice passengers may collaborate with an unscrupulous physician or chiropractor and file personal injury claims for non-existent injuries. Some criminals visit legitimate doctors and claim whiplash or other difficult-to-detect soft tissue injuries. Jump-ins, like the name suggests, occur when people suddenly appear and jump into the scammer’s car claiming they were passengers. You should also be suspicious if the other driver and passengers report injuries where there is only minor damage to the vehicles.
This is the first of a mini-series Biometrica plans to do on staged accident scams.