Elderly drivers are favorite targets for staged accident scams, when professional thieves cause accidents on purpose to profit from insurance claims against unsuspecting motorists.
Elderly drivers are choice victims for these criminals, especially if they are driving alone in an upscale area in nice car that looks well-insured. The fact that some elderly drivers may be less attentive when driving, and more easily confused or intimidated after an accident makes them even more vulnerable.
According to a 2010 report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau, the top five states for staged accident questionable claims were Florida, New York, California, Texas, and Illinois.
“Staged auto accidents are a dangerous criminal activity that targets innocent drivers with increasingly bold schemes aimed at defrauding insurance companies,” says Loretta Worters, vice president with the Insurance Information Institute in New York City. “Not only do honest policyholders ultimately end up paying more for auto insurance, but those committing the fraud can cause serious injuries or death.”
At the least, getting into a forced accident costs a victim the inconvenience of having to take a vehicle in for repairs and having to deal with doctors, lawyers and insurance companies. A victim’s premiums could skyrocket because of the claim, or the insurance company might choose not to renew the policy.
The NICB notes that there are four common types of staged accident scams:
1. Swoop and Squat: Usually involves three vehicles; two are driven by criminals, the other is 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 internationally cuts it off, thus causing the squat vehicle driver to hit his breaks. 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.
2. Side Swipe: Typically occurs at busy intersections with dual left turn lanes. The criminal positions his vehicle in the outer lane. As soon as the victim’s vehicle drifts into the outer turn lane, the criminal side-swipes it.
3. Panic stop: Here 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, for example, by a cell phone call. As soon as the victim is distracted, the driver slams on the brakes, causing the innocent motorist to rear-end the criminal’s vehicle. The victim’s insurance company must pay for vehicle damage as well as injuries that the passengers may claim to have suffered from the accident.
4. Drive down: In this scheme, the victim merges his vehicle into traffic after being motioned to do so 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 excuses.
Elderly drivers who want to avoid staged accident scams should keep these driver safety tips in mind:
• Maintain plenty of distance between you and the vehicle ahead of you in case the driver in front of you suddenly slams on the brakes.
• Stay focused. Turn off the radio and your cell phone. The more you can eliminate driving distractions, the easier it is to stay aware of the vehicles around you. Accident scammers trolling for victims are always on the lookout for other drivers talking on cell phones. It’s just easier to make their case that you weren’t paying attention to the road.
• Check your rear-view and side mirrors frequently. Elderly drivers often drive with tunnel-vision, narrow-focusing on the road ahead. This tendency is well-known and easy to spot by professional accident scammers.
If you are in an accident:
• Call 911 immediately. Even if there are no injuries or little damage, you want police assistance on scene as quickly as possible. If you are dealing with thieves, they may not be interested in filing a bogus accident claim. The staged accident may just be a pretense to get you out of your car to steal your wallet or your vehicle.
• Keep a disposable camera, pen and notebook in your glove compartment. If you are in an accident, you want to gather as much information as possible. If you think you are the victim of a staged accident, the first thing you should do is COUNT AND TAKE PHOTOS OF THE PASSENGERS. Get their names and telephone numbers. Scammers have been known to recruit people on the street to jump in to a vehicle before the police arrive to pad a claim with “victims” who were not in the car.
• Take pictures of the damage on both cars. To obtain a bigger claim, scammers have been known to turn small dents into major damage between the accident scene and the body shop.
• Notice how the other passengers behave. Do they seem hurt? Or do they wait for the police or ambulance to arrive before they act injured?
• Beware “strangers” on the street who try to direct you to a doctor, chiropractor, lawyer, or body shop. Or tow trucks that magically appear. Valets, parking attendants, or other bystanders who witnessed the “accident” may be part of the scam team. The last thing you want is to be further victimized by a crooked repair shop that only wants to pad your bill or a bogus health care provider that is more interested in billing your insurance than giving you proper care.