A special statewide operation targeting the arrest of nearly 80 suspects from Miami to Pensacola, Fla. for their roles in insurance fraud schemes, dubbed “operation spring cleaning,” has been launched by the Division of Insurance Fraud.
“Operation spring cleaning” is one of the largest-ever statewide round-ups of suspects wanted for insurance scams costing hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Tom Gallagher, Florida’s CFO, explained. “All Floridians pay for the crimes these suspects commit through increased insurance costs. We’re sending a message that we will continue to tirelessly pursue anyone who attempts to defraud hardworking Floridians.”
Gallagher said it is estimated that all Floridians pay $1,400 a year in additional insurance costs as a result of insurance fraud.
Detectives with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud will be making arrests for a variety of schemes including filing fraudulent hurricane claims, selling bogus insurance, staging auto accidents, fraudulently collecting premiums and faking injuries to obtain workers’ compensation benefits. Gallagher said arrests will also be made for prescription fraud and presenting fraudulent insurance cards.
Operation Spring Cleaning kicked off on Tuesday with 40 arrests, including 12 so far for Personal Injury Protection insurance fraud. Other arrests already made are for workers’ compensation fraud, health insurance fraud and hurricane claim fraud; in addition, one suspect was arrested for operating as an unlicensed public adjuster, and one suspect was arrested for agent fraud. The first arrests were made in Broward, Miami, Pensacola and Tallahassee. The operation continues through Thursday.
PIP fraud most often involves staging auto accidents or filing fraudulent accident reports in order to bill auto insurance companies for medical care that was unnecessary or never rendered. Workers’ compensation fraud can range from employers understating payroll to avoid paying premiums to workers faking injuries to collect benefits.
Building on past efforts to combat insurance fraud, Gallagher is pushing again this legislative session to tighten PIP fraud penalties, including extending a minimum two-year prison sentence to anyone who files a fraudulent insurance claim for a “phantom” accident. The legislation is being sponsored by Rep. David Rivera and Sen. J.D. Alexander.
Gallagher also is pushing for additional fraud detectives and six more dedicated prosecutors to be placed in Duval, Pasco/Pinellas, Orange, Hillsborough, Palm Beach and Broward counties. Two dedicated prosecutors already are located in Miami-Dade County.
In 2003, the Legislature passed tougher workers’ compensation laws that, in tandem with increased arrests, have led to a more than 30-percent decrease in premiums and about $1 billion in savings for small businesses.
Gallagher said that tougher laws, and aggressive investigation and prosecution of insurance fraud, are critical to combating insurance fraud. In February, the fraud division arrested 21 individuals for allegedly staging 10 auto crashes in the Tampa Bay area and billing insurance companies for nearly $1 million in fake claims. That same month, the division made 25 workers’ compensation fraud arrests – almost one a day.
Gallagher said the fraud division has made more than 3,200 fraud arrests in the last five years.
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