Sometimes Hollywood meets reality.
The season premier of "Burn Notice," a popular spy-themed show on the USA network, features a storyline about the deadly consequences from a fake auto accident scam.
Sadly, however, such phony auto crash scams are not just a figment of a screenwriter’s vivid imagination.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth when it comes to an escalating insurance racket known as the staged traffic accident.
Staged traffic accidents, not only have cost the honest consumer hundreds of dollars in extra insurance premiums, they have also produced frequent injuries and senseless deaths of innocent people.
In California alone, it is reported that staged traffic accidents are a criminal problem resulting in an annual $200 million loss. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), staged auto accidents are quickly becoming one of the leading insurance frauds in the United States.
How does this costly, and possibly deadly, scheme work?
According to the Los Angeles Police Department, staged collisions are criminal conspiracies that usually involve numerous suspects. The victims are the drivers of other vehicles who have been intentionally targeted by the suspects who commit these acts strictly for financial gain.
The two most common techniques reportedly used in staged collisions are known as the “swoop and squat” and the “drive down” (aka the “wave on”):
• The “swoop and squat” involves two suspects, each driving a separate vehicle. These suspects usually target a late model vehicle occupied by a single victim, so the victim has no witness to the collision. The “squat” vehicle, usually containing two suspects, positions itself in front of the victim’s vehicle, slowing to close the gap between the vehicles.
The “swoop” vehicle then changes lanes in front of the “squat” vehicle, and suddenly stops — forcing the “squat” vehicle to stop — and subsequently causing the innocent victim to rear end the “squat” vehicle. The “swoop” vehicle then leaves the scene.
The suspects in the “squat” vehicle will frequently state that an unknown vehicle “came out of nowhere” and stopped, forcing them to brake.
• In the “drive down” version of this fraud, the suspects stage a collision at an intersection or parking lot entrance after yielding the right-of-way to the innocent victim by waving them ahead. As the victim proceeds through the intersection, the suspect purposely accelerates and collides with the victim’s vehicle.
So what can you do to help reduce your risk of being a victim of a staged traffic accident?
Here are some excellent tips you can use according to the LAPD and the NICB:
• Be aware of your surroundings. Pay attention to vehicles around you, including those beyond the vehicle in front of you. Be sure to allow plenty of room between you and other vehicles.
• When turning into a lane that allows for two vehicles to turn simultaneously, be especially careful.
Quick Security Tip: People committing staged accidents often prey on cars that cross the center line, purposely sideswiping the victim’s auto.
• Count the passengers in the other car after any accident. If possible, get their names, telephone numbers and driver’s license numbers.
Quick Security Tip: This is important because often more people will file claims than were actually in the vehicle.
• Do not drive when you are tired or stressed. Diminished concentration on the road will lead to carelessness, which will make you more vulnerable. Refrain from using a cell phone, map or anything else that will distract you while you are driving.
• It’s a good idea to carry a disposable camera in your vehicle. If you are involved in an accident, whether you believe it is staged or not, take photos of the damage to each vehicle, the license plate of the autos involved, and the driver/passengers as possible.
• Call the police to the scene, and get a police report with the officer’s name, even if the damage appears to be negligible.
Quick Security Tip: If the police report describes the damage to the claimant’s vehicle as minor, it will be harder for them to damage the car at a later time, and try to collect a larger claim.
• If you do suspect a staged traffic accident, call your local law enforcement agency immediately.
For more information on staged auto accidents, contact your highway patrol, your state’s insurance department, your insurance carrier, and call the NICB scam hotline at 1-800-TEL-NICB.
My Final Thoughts:
Staged auto accidents are reprehensible criminal collaborations, not only involving the persons who actually set-up the scam collisions, but also the small number of shady doctors and crooked attorneys who are knowingly involved in helping to make the fraudulent insurance claims, costing you and me our hard earned money in unnecessarily higher insurance premiums.
In addition, these staged traffic collisions have cost innocent victims their lives and limbs, including a disastrous catastrophe which killed a California couple, along with their young child, in a fiery crash with an 18 wheeler.
Copyright 2010 by Bruce Mandelblit
Bruce Mandelblit (www.CrimeZilla.com) is a nationally known security and safety journalist, as well as a recently retired, highly decorated reserve law enforcement officer. His e-mail address is CrimePrevention123@yahoo.com.
This column is provided for general information purposes only. Please check with your local law enforcement agency and legal professional for information specific to you and your jurisdiction.
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