Five defendants accused of participating in an insurance fraud scheme centered on staged accidents with tractor trailers in the New Orleans area recently pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiracy and wire fraud charges. At least two other individuals remain under federal investigation for their alleged role in the scheme aimed at defrauding insurance and trucking companies by making false injury claims.
Sadly, this case is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to staged accidents and fraudulent insurance claims made every year in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigations estimates that staged accidents cost the insurance industry about $20 billion annually. And, while you may not have been directly targeted, you are still a victim as staged auto accident fraud results in higher insurance premiums for all honest drivers and threatens the lives of innocent motorists.
Staged auto accident scams today can be quite sophisticated, and fraudsters often target new, rental, or commercial vehicles because they are usually well-insured. While the vehicles may only suffer minor damage, the crooks file personal injury claims for greatly exaggerated or non-existent injuries. Here are the most common schemes to look out for:
The Drive Down (aka The Wave-In) – This scam occurs at locations where vehicles have to merge or cross paths with other vehicles, such as four-way stop signs, T-intersections, merge and yield signs, freeway ramps, lane closures or parking lots. A seemingly kind-hearted criminal will motion the victim to proceed. As the innocent driver begins to move, the criminal purposely accelerates and collides into the targeted vehicle. After the accident, the fraudster denies ever motioning the motorist to proceed.
The Panic Stop (aka The Brake Slam) – A scammer vehicle travelling in front of the targeted vehicle has at least one passenger watching for the victim to take their eyes off the road. As soon as they do, the passenger tells the dishonest driver to slam on the brakes, whereby causing the innocent motorist to run into the back of the criminal’s vehicle.
The Sideswipe – As the victim rounds a corner at a busy intersection with multiple turn lanes, the perpetrator deliberately sideswipes the targeted vehicle if its driver accidentally drifts into the other lane while completing the turn. Or, the crooked driver drifts slightly into the victim’s lane and sideswipes the honest motorist’s vehicle. False witnesses are often involved in the scam to place the blame on the innocent driver.
The Start and Stop – This scheme usually occurs in heavy traffic. The dishonest driver in front of the victim begins to accelerate with the flow of traffic. Believing that traffic is moving, the targeted driver accelerates too. Suddenly, the criminal slams on their brakes, causing the victim to rear-end their vehicle.
The Swoop and Squat – This scenario typically involves three vehicles, two driven by criminals and a third by the intended target. The driver of the squat vehicle, which is loaded with passengers, positions their car in front of the target’s vehicle. The swoop vehicle driver then cuts off the squat vehicle, forcing it to brake suddenly. The targeted driver is unable to stop in time and rear-ends the squat vehicle. Meanwhile, the driver of the swoop vehicle leaves the accident scene. In more complex schemes, additional vehicles are used to box in the intended target, impeding their ability to change lanes. The scam participants then file fraudulent claims for alleged injuries and vehicular damage.
The T-Bone – This accident involves an innocent driver travelling through an intersection and a criminal purposefully broadsiding the victim’s vehicle. Accomplice witnesses will claim the innocent motorist ran a red light or stop sign.
Adding Damage – After a collision, staged or not, the scammer goes to another location, causes extensive damage to their vehicle and claims the damage happened during the original accident.
Fight Back Against Insurance Fraud
Whether the scam involves an organized crime ring or an individual attempting to “make a few extra bucks,” there are steps you can take to reduce your chances of becoming a possible mark for staged car accident scammers:
Remain aware of your surroundings and watch out for large, older vehicles with three or more occupants. Scammers often crowd into old cars when looking to stage an accident.
Don’t tailgate…leave plenty of space between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you. Doing so provides maximum visibility to what is ahead of you, and will allow adequate time to slow, stop or take evasive action if the lead vehicle stops suddenly.
Use your own judgment in driving. Let vehicles pass instead of relying on others to “wave you in.”
Considering equipping your vehicle with an Event Video Recorder (EVR), if you haven’t already done so. These devices record the actual version of events, and can be invaluable in fighting insurance fraud.
If an accident occurs:
Call the police to the scene. Get a police report with the officer’s name, even if there is little or no damage. If the report describes damage to the claimant’s vehicle as just a small dent or scratch, it'll be more difficult for criminals to later claim more extensive vehicular damage.
Record the contact information (name, address, phone number) for the occupants of all vehicles involved, insurance information, license plate numbers, witness contact information and any other pertinent facts. In staged accidents, it is not uncommon for more people to file claims than were in the other vehicle(s).
Use your cell-phone camera to photograph the accident scene before any vehicles are moved, if safe to do so. Take pictures of all damaged vehicles and the scene, each from all 4 sides, as well as tire marks, debris, signs and traffic control devices, obstructions, and pavement defects.
If you are an Owner Operator Direct insured, please contact us immediately. The sooner our claims professionals can get an investigation started, the better the chances fraud can be detected.
Owner Operator Direct provides top notch trucking insurance to OO's, whether operating with authority or as leased drivers. Give us a ring at 800-499-1044 during weekday business hours if you want a quote, or answer some questions online and we'll email you one.GET A COMMERCIAL TRUCK INSURANCE QUOTE