Everyone knows April Fools’ Day is good for a few laughs, but nobody knows its true origins. Some historians attribute the day of foolish jokes to the adoption of the Gregorian calendar in France, while others link April 1st to springtime “renewal” festivals in which pranks happily disrupted everyday social order.
At Esurance, we love a good laugh as much as anyone, but some “pranks” (like car insurance fraud) are no laughing matter. After all, fraud not only affects insurance companies, it affects us as individuals as well. In fact, the FBI estimates that the average family pays $400 to $700 more on insurance premiums due to fraud.
To help you fight back (and keep premiums low), we break down some common scams and provide tips on how you can avoid them.
The fault with no-fault
“No-fault insurance” (also known as personal injury protection or PIP) is an insurance program that allows policyholders to receive payment for damages, medical coverage, and lost wages in the event of an accident, regardless of fault.
Unfortunately, no-fault insurance laws also make it easy for scammers to defraud the system by falsifying records and inflating medical bills, injuries, and collision damages. Among the 12 no-fault insurance states, Florida and New York top the Insurance Information Institute’s list of no-fault states with questionable claims. So it should come as no surprise that Florida and New York have also garnered attention for needing insurance reform as well as for rising premiums caused by fraud.
In these states and elsewhere, some of the most common scams are staged accidents. Organized rings often work together to orchestrate an accident and then inflate medical injuries and property damage.
So what are their tactics, and how exactly do they “stage” accidents? The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud offered up a few common ploys.
- The swoop and squat: In this scenario, a car will suddenly pull in front of you and immediately brake to cause a rear-end collision. Sometimes, an accessory to the crime will drive alongside you in the right or left lane to stop you from swerving out of the way. The driver and passengers will then proceed to file large injury and collision claims against your insurance company.
- The jump in: In this scenario, fraudsters will fabricate more victims during the claims process, asserting that there were more passengers in the car. And not surprisingly these fictitious victims have copious injuries, too.
- The helper: In this scenario, a “Good Samaritan” will appear at the scene of an accident (often caused by a cohort) and offer to help. This person will provide the numbers to a doctor, a repair shop, and a lawyer. Be careful here. The repair shop could purposefully inflate your repair bill, the doctor could misrepresent your injuries and medical treatments, and the lawyer might provide untrustworthy or dishonest advice.
How you can fight back
You can outsmart the fraudsters through a few precautionary measures:
- Be aware of your surroundings. Keep your eyes on the road, check your mirrors, and watch out for cars “pacing” (following) yours or stopping for no apparent reason.
- Notify the authorities. Always call the police when an accident occurs, especially if you have concerns about the accident, other drivers or passengers, or if someone has injuries (no matter how minor). Contacting the police, even if an officer can’t show up to the accident scene, will lead to an official record of the incident. The report will come in handy when fraudsters try to fabricate excess damage and injuries.
- Have the right equipment. Cell phones with built-in cameras are standard issue these days — and useful in collisions. A camera phone allows you to document damage at the scene and call for the police and medical attention, if needed. (If you don’t have a phone with a built-in digital camera, carry a disposable camera in your glove box.)
- Gather info. Obtain the full names, addresses, and phone numbers of all parties involved (including all witnesses), as well as the license plate number(s), the vehicle model(s), and insurance information. You may also want to document where people were seated in the vehicle(s) when the accident occurred. The more information you can provide to your insurance company, the better. By being aware of fraudsters’ tricks and the ways you can beat them, you can ensure that no matter what day of the year it is, the joke will not be on you.