Would-be fraudsters in Georgia are increasingly turning to U-Haul trucks with hopes of making a quick buck by staging crashes, insurance regulators say.
Many have ended up with arrest warrants and fraud convictions instead.
A spokesman for the Georgia Department of Insurance said 20 criminal cases involving U-Haul claims were opened in 2019. Late last month, the Insurance Department announced fraud charges against two women who are accused of faking accidents involving U-Haul rental trucks.
“This practice involving staged U-Haul accidents is becoming increasingly popular,” Insurance Commissioner John F. King said in a Jan. 31 press release.
King made that comment while announcing that an arrest warrant had been issued for Atlanta resident Delise Patterson, 36, for alleged insurance fraud. Investigators say King coordinated a staged accident on June 22 involving a U-Haul truck and another vehicle. She is accused of filing a false insurance claim with RepWest Insurance, a carrier that is owned by U-Haul’s parent company.
Also on Jan. 31, the department announced that it is seeking information on the whereabouts of Sontana Marie Teasley, 27, of Augusta. She is also charged with insurance fraud after allegedly staging an accident involving a U-Haul truck and her car in Richmond County.
Brandon Wright, a public information officer for the Insurance Department, said the 20 cases opened in 2019 represent nearly a third of the 63 investigations involving U-Haul since 2014. He said since 2014, the department has arrested 47 people who are accused of participating in staged accidents involving U-Haul.
Thirty of those cases were closed without any arrest and prosecutors declined to file charges in two cases. The 20 cases opened in 2019 are still under investigation, Wright said.
The Insurance Department described a typical scam to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2018: A group of suspects rents a U-Haul truck and purchases insurance coverage. They drive it to a predesignated location where another scammer is waiting with a car. The truck collides with the car and the passengers claim injuries.
The newspaper reported that 43 people had been arrested for U-Haul scams in 2018. Of those, 26 had been convicted. Most were sentenced to probation, but one fraudster was sentenced to one year in prison and another to six months incarceration, the Journal-Constitution reported.
The scams are not unique to Georgia. Last week, the Louisiana State Police Insurance Fraud Unit announced the arrest of five people who are accused of a U-Haul crash scam. The alleged ringleader told the other participants that he had pulled off a similar scam before and the scheme would bring “easy money,” according to a report by WBRZ Channel 2.
U-Haul spokesman Jeff Lockridge said U-Haul and Repwest insurance are well aware of the scams and have specific protocols and procedural checks in place to flag suspicious claims.
“As a result, we are able to identify these scams at a high rate,” he said in an email. “We work with law enforcement to make certain participants in any such activities are captured and brought to justice.”
Lockridge said U-Haul has not detected any noticeable increase in the number of claims in recent years.
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