What’s New in Staged Auto Accident Scams

October 15, 2012

Swoop and squat, drive-down and panic stop are examples of staged auto accidents, according to Frank Scafidi, director of public affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). Scafidi recently sat down with Claims Journal to describe the most common types of staged auto accident schemes. Here, he outlines why it’s important for adjusters to verify key aspects of an investigation involving a potentially fraudulent accident scam.

Claims Journal: What are staged auto accident schemes?

Scafidi: They are a significant cost-driver in a lot of areas, and particularly in states that have no-fault insurance systems. What they generally do is involve one or more people, one or more vehicles that the bad guys operate … where the innocent driver, because of the way the accident is carried out, usually will hit somebody in the rear or will be hit by one of the bad guys so that a responding law enforcement officer will find that innocent victim at fault.

CJ: What are the most common types of auto accident schemes?

Sometimes staged accidents are the first step in a multi-fraudulent situation.

Scafidi: One is called the “swoop and squat.” There are different variations, but essentially that scheme is where you have two or three vehicles that are operated by criminals, by co-conspirators. They will identify a target, and they’ll maneuver their vehicles in such a way that one vehicle will pass the target victim, the innocent victim, and then get back in front of that car, and then they’ll continue on for a ways, and then another vehicle will come up alongside the target vehicle to block that person’s potential escape from an impending accident.

Then the first vehicle will just stop suddenly, causing the victim’s vehicle to run into the back of the bad guy’s car. Meanwhile, the other players in the side car, the blocking car or other trail cars, might then just disappear.

So [what] you’ve got left at the scene are the innocent victim and the person that they ran into. When the cops show up, of course, it’s a pretty clear cut case of following too closely.

In many cases, you’ll find witnesses that are all part of the criminal conspiracy. … So,when a claim comes in, it’s very difficult to disprove. When you hit somebody in the rear, you’re typically at fault. When you’ve got witnesses to back up the bad guy’s story — that’s a pretty incredible set of facts to overcome.

Then, there’s a “sideswipe,” a “drive-down.” Another one is a “panic stop.” A panic stop is essentially the same … it’s where an individual driving the car, the bad guy [is] with two or three other people in the car. Then they just move it along at a slow rate of speed and they find somebody that looks like a good target. They’ll maneuver in front of that car, hit the brakes quickly, and then cause the innocent person to run into their rear. Again, now you’ve just got one vehicle that’s operated by the bad guys, but you may have two or more passengers in there … They’re going to get out, and they’re going to complain of injuries.

When someone asks them, “Why did you stop?” Well, it could’ve been that somebody stepped off the curb or there was some reason for them to stop that’s going to sound legitimate. So, it’s not the person that stopped that’s going to be at fault. It’s the one that hit them in the rear.

In the sideswipe, typically the bad guy will position his vehicle in an outer lane, and then as soon as the victim’s vehicle comes into that outer turning lane, the criminal will sideswipe it. This is usually done where you’ve got dual turning lanes. There’s just a way to maneuver the vehicle to make it look like the bad guy was innocent and the victim vehicle performed some sort of a traffic maneuver and hit the bad guy, to make it seem like the innocent party is at fault.

CJ: Are there any other new trends in staged auto accidents?

Scafidi: Not really. There are some variants of all these things, but the key ingredients to these phony accident schemes is to have an innocent vehicle that is maneuvered in such a way that driver either hits a car or is hit by one of the bad guys.

The actual crash might be more intense than anyone was planning. There’s one famous case from New York years ago where a woman was killed when she was part of staged accident scam. So, there are risks to drivers and pedestrians, in many cases.

It’s important for adjusters, claims handlers and investigators to understand that when you get what looks like a clear-cut case of, “Gee, well our insured was at fault here making a left turn,” there could be other elements.

If you’ve got some indicators of these things — several people in the car that was hit are claiming injuries — these are things that send up the red flags for us. We have to be aware that what appears to be a clear-cut accident could very well have been a staged or setup accident.

CJ: Are there a few common factors involved in staged accidents?

Scafidi: Perhaps, when you run your claims history on some of these things and you see the same vehicle is involved in other claims, even in other parts of the state or the country, that’s a clue.

I would defer to the SIU and the claims experts and professionals. When you see something like this, give it a little extra review. It never hurts to refer something to us if you think it’s questionable.

As an investigator, if you see something or you’re referred a claim and it doesn’t add up, then do a little more digging. Everyone is under time constraints, and you’ve got to process claims quickly. It just pays to take a little extra time and verify some of the names that might be on that claim, the injuries, the places that these people are seeking medical assistance or where they’re referred for medical treatment.

Sometimes staged accidents are really the first step in a multi-fraudulent situation, where you’ve got people referring injured parties to certain clinics, to certain doctors, for treatments that are never even performed or are unnecessary. When you start probing around and you see a lot of these referrals to specific clinics in certain areas … you get into, really, the granular detail of what goes on behind a claim. When you see that activity, that’s another indication that there could be something there that’s very wrong.

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