5 Signs You’ve Been in a Staged Car Crash

By on

This post comes from Barbara Marquand at partner site Insure.com.

Accidents happen, but some car crashes are by design.

Orchestrated by sophisticated criminal networks, staged “accidents” bilk car insurance companies out of billions of dollars, with consumers paying the ultimate price in higher premiums.

They work like this: You’re driving along innocently when a car comes out of nowhere, and wham! Before you know what hit you, passengers pile out of other cars complaining of injuries. Strangers urge you to visit a certain clinic or lawyer. Witnesses conveniently appear. And finally the other driver and passengers file large damage and/or injury insurance claims against you for thousands of dollars.

“The money in fake injury claims can be so lucrative, it’s hard for organized crime to pass up,” says James Quiggle, spokesman for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in Washington, D.C.

Auto insurance fraud is big business. Prosecutors say a crime ring they broke up this year tried to fleece $400 million from insurers through staged crashes and phony claims in New York City.

The Insurance Information Institute estimated that a typical two-car family in Florida paid an extra $100 a year for car insurance in 2011, effectively a “fraud tax” because of staged accidents and other scams.

California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones and Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey recently warned Californians to be alert for staged crashes. Last year the Department of Insurance received more than 7,700 suspected auto fraud claims in Los Angeles County alone.

In March the National Insurance Crime Bureau asked drivers in the Las Vegas area to look out for crooks targeting trucks for staged crashes. Some 100 suspected staged crashes along the I-15 corridor were reported to the bureau in the previous 12 to 18 months, and as many as 25 targeted big rigs.

More recently, Minneapolis-St. Paul has become a hot spot. The NICB reported in January that the rate of organized crime involvement in auto insurance fraud rose 230 percent in Minnesota in the last four years. The Insurance Federation of Minnesota says the increase is due to a crackdown on fraud in other states.

“You start herding the cockroaches around, and they start falling off to new locations,” Quiggle says.

Singled out

Nobody is immune from getting targeted in a staged crash.

“Victims run the gamut — young, old, male and female,” says NICB spokesman Frank Scafidi.

But crooks tend to single out elderly people, women who are alone, and drivers of nice cars, he says.

So how can you tell if you’ve been in a staged crash?

Here are five red flags:

1. Sudden stops

The “swoop and squat” is the most common staged crash tactic, according to the California Department of Insurance. Traffic flows along smoothly. A car pulls up beside you, so you can’t change lanes. Then the driver in front of you slams on the brakes, causing a rear-end collision.

2. A car comes out of nowhere at an intersection

Swindlers use a couple of different tactics to take advantage of you at intersections. A driver might motion you forward and then slam into you, claiming he never gave you the signal.

Or a driver motions you forward to make a left turn in front of his car. But then as soon as you enter the intersection, he pulls forward, blocking your way, and another car crashes into you.

The “right-turn drive down” tactic happens when you try to make a right turn from a stop sign. A car parked at the curb accelerates forward and hits the rear corner of your car. The driver says you ran the stop sign or pulled in front of him.

3. Pressure to go to certain clinics or attorneys

“Runners” and “cappers” show up at the accident scene and urge you to go to clinics or attorneys that are actually fraudulent. Quiggle says some criminal rings also send people to real accidents to persuade victims to go to their crooked medical and legal professionals.

4. Suddenly, lots of passengers

“Jump-ins” happen when people suddenly appear and jump into other cars, claiming they were passengers. You should also be suspicious if the other driver and passengers say they’re injured despite minor damage to the vehicles.

5. Phony witnesses

You should be suspicious when a witness conveniently appears and backs up everything the other driver says.

More on Insure.com:

Sign up for our free newsletter

Like this article? Sign up for our newsletter and we'll send you a regular digest of our newest stories, full of money saving tips and advice, free! We'll also email you a PDF of Stacy Johnson's "205 Ways to Save Money" as soon as you've subscribed. It's full of great tips that'll help you save a ton of extra cash. It doesn't cost a dime, so why wait? Click here to sign up now.

Check out our hottest deals!

We're always adding new deals and coupons that'll save you big bucks. See the deals to the right and hundreds more in our Deals section.

Click here to explore 1,560 more deals!

Comments & discussion

We welcome your opinions, but let’s keep it civil. Like many businesses, we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone. In our case, that means those who communicate by name-calling, racism, using words designed to hurt others or generally acting like an uninformed bully. Also, comments that include links to email addresses or commercial websites typically aren't posted. This isn't a place to advertise your business.

  • USAfan22

    You have provided examples of what they do and how, yet no solution other than to be aware. Yes, awareness of tactics can contribute to prevention. However, what can we do to effectively counter act once it happens?

  • TT

    Lots of how-it-happens but zero about what to do if it happens. This article is not terribly helpful. Seems that’s what this MoneyTalksNews organization is churning out more and more of.

  • Liz Ludchak

    I too would like to know what to do if something like this happens. This article is informative, but it left us all hanging on ways to deal with a situation at hand. Personally, I would be calling the police and not even getting out of the car if there were a ton of people suddenly appear out of nowhere, or a single person claims immediate injury (though I can see the injury part coming after one leaves the scene…)

  • Toni Ziffer Schultz

    When this happened to my daughter (who was driving my Lexus) everyone knew it was a staged accident. Everyone includes the insurance company, a major firm with a deep voiced actor as the spokesperson, but when I was sued for the terms of the policy and requested that there be no settlement the insurance company responded, “we have to appear with the same attorneys over and over. It’s easier to give up a few thousand dollars than fight.” Until exactly that attitude disappears staged accidents will continue.
    By the way, the insurance company settlement was for about 1% (or less) of what the attorney for the plaintiff requested and all without speaking with any of the witnesses or the police officer that told us it was staged.