Staged Accidents on the Rise across United States
Automobile accident fraud is among the country’s most widespread and lucrative fraud crimes, and the
Insurance Research Council estimates 24 percent of bodily injury claims resulting from vehicle crashes are fraudulent.
Fraudulent automobile accidents occur more frequently in urban areas where there is a greater volume of vehicles and in wealthier communities because drivers there are perceived to have better insurance coverage. Criminals oftentimes target new, rental or commercial vehicles because they are typically well insured. Further, criminals prey upon women driving alone and senior citizens since they are perceived to cause fewer problems and be less confrontational at accident scenes. There are four common caused accident schemes that consumers should be most vigilant of to avoid being victimized and potentially injured while driving.
Swoop and Squat
This scheme has two basic variations. On a surface street, a swoop-and-squat scheme usually involves three vehicles: two are driven by criminals and the other by the victim. The driver of the “squat” vehicle positions his vehicle in front of the victim’s car. The driver of the “swoop” vehicle pulls ahead of the
squat vehicle and intentionally cuts it off, thus causing the squat vehicle driver to suddenly hit his brakes. The victim cannot react in time and rear ends the squat vehicle. The swoop vehicle races off and is not seen again. The innocent motorist states the swoop vehicle caused the accident, but because that driver cannot be located, the victim has to pay the vehicle damage and personal injury claims of passengers in the squat vehicle. The freeway swoop-and-squat scheme works in a similar manner, however four vehicles are typically involved in this scam: three belong to criminals and the fourth is driven by the victim. In this variation, the third criminal vehicle boxes in the innocent motorist so he cannot change lanes when the swoop vehicle cuts off the squat vehicle. Following the collision, the swoop and box-in cars drive off, thus forcing the innocent driver’s insurer to pay the claim.
This caused accident scheme typically occurs at busy intersections with dual left turn lanes. The criminal positions his vehicle in the outer turn lane. As soon as the victim’s vehicle drifts into the outer turn lane, the criminal side swipes it. To help ensure the scheme’s success, the criminal conducts advance surveillance to identify heavily traveled intersections with a high volume of newer vehicles, and ones where vehicles in the inner left turn lane oftentimes drift across lane divider lines into the outer left turn lane.
In this scheme, the criminal typically drives an older vehicle filled with passengers. The criminal positions his car in front of the victim’s while a backseat passenger in the criminal’s vehicle watches and waits for the innocent motorist to be distracted, such as by a cellular telephone call. Once the victim is distracted, the backseat passenger tells the driver to slam on the brakes, thus causing the innocent motorist to rear end the criminal’ vehicle. The victim believes the criminal’s vehicle “suddenly stopped for no apparent reason,” while its passengers claim to suffer accident injuries. Sometimes criminals will intentionally damage their brake light bulbs so that they do not function, thus providing no warning to the victim that the scheme is about to occur.
In the drive down scheme, the victim merges his vehicle into traffic after being motioned in by the criminal. As the innocent driver begins to merge, the criminal speeds up and causes a collision. When questioned, the criminal denies motioning the victim to merge into traffic or gives an excuse, such as “I was swatting a fly.” This type of caused accident scheme works well where vehicles have to merge, such as at four-way stop signs, t-intersections, merge and yield signs, lane reductions and closures, freeway ramps, and parking lots.
Ohio State Highway Patrol Analyst Note: Officers should look for these signs on every traffic crash and should especially be alert when handling crashes on station. In addition, be sure that both drivers’ accounts are consistent; crash staging criminals will often have additional “passengers” come to the scene or claim to have been a passenger after the fact in order to maximize the insurance pay-out.