Aug. 02--SEBRING -- By knowing more about staged crash fraud, "Florida's motoring public can avoid such schemes by criminals who prey on innocent motorists," said Florida Highway Patrol Public Affairs Lt. Greg Bueno on Tuesday.
In order to avoid staged crashes drivers should never tailgate, but should call law enforcement to a crash scene, FHP recommended. Use a camera to document any crash damage and the number of passengers in other vehicles, Bueno said.
Also, avoid people who suddenly appear at a crash scene and try to direct you to doctors or attorneys, he warned. Be wary of physicians who insist you file a personal injury claim after a crash -- especially if you are not hurt.
Lastly, avoid tow trucks that arrive without anyone having called for service. "If you witness a crash, provide details to law enforcement officers," he said.
"Insurance fraud affects the bottom line for all auto insurance policy holders, and educating motorists with information about staged crashes will help to reduce the fraud," said FHP Director Col. David Brierton.
In 2010, it was estimated each driver in Florida paid an extra $49 due to fraudulent insurance claims. That estimate was expected to rise.
Incidents of staged crashes are not high in Highlands County and more prevalent in big cities, like Tampa, which was listed as second, below New York City.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau three of the top five cities with questionable claims were just hours away from Highlands County.
They were: (1) New York City, 1, 304; (2) Tampa, 562; (3) Miami, 511; (4) Orlando, 422; and (5) Houston, 376. Florida ranked No. 1, of the top five states in the nation with such claims, the Crime Bureau stated.
Highlands County Sheriff's Public Information Officer Nell Hays was not aware of any auto insurance scam rings operating in the county. Hays added any reports of staged crashes probably would be handled by the highway patrol.
"We don't need staged crashes," she quipped. "We have enough other stuff."
Sebring Police Cmdr. Steve Carr said his department had not dealt with staged crash complaints either.
But statewide an estimated $1 billion was paid out, said Gov. Rick Scott, in a televised interview in February.
"This is a billion dollars of fraud on the citizens of our state," he said.
This is money that should be back in the public's hands, not the hands of someone that's running a clinic or taking advantage of the system..., Scott added.
Many victims do not even know they were victimized.
It defies logic that as automobile accidents have decreased by 8 percent over the past five years, auto insurance rates have skyrocketed for Florida families..., said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater.
"One thing is clear: Florida's personal injury protection system is surrounded by sharks looking to make their money off the backs of consumers..." Atwater said.
Fraud associated with staged accidents costs auto insurers millions of dollars in personal injury protection (PIP) claims. A chunk of those losses get passed along to auto policyholders in the form of higher premiums, a story at InsuranceQuotes.com stated.
"In Florida, where drivers are required to carry $10,000 in PIP for each passenger in a car, the math is simple -- and appealing to criminals," the story stated.
Pile six people in an automobile, stage a wreck, send each to a medical professional, and a minor fender-bender can wind up costing an auto insurance company $60,000, with each of the guilty parties getting a cut of the action, the story stated.
Local insurance companies that were contacted did not go on record for this story.
"This is a big issue and concern to all of those in the auto insurance industry -- we all pay the price," said Aymee Zubizarreta, a spokeswoman for State Farm Insurance in a news release.
To report fraud call a local, county or state law enforcement office.
To report suspicious crash activity, contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau in the following three ways: Text "FRAUD" and your tip to TIP411 (847411); Call 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422); or submit a form on www.nicb.org.
You also may call the Department of Financial Services, Fraud Division Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 if you suspect fraud. You may be eligible for a reward of up to $25,000 through this department.
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