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Scam Alert: How to Tell If Your Car Crash Was No Accident

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Nobody likes getting into a car accident. From the high-pitched screech of tires to the thunderous sound that comes when two cars slam together, the entire experience can jolt you to the core.

Even the smallest of crashes – a fender bender – can shatter your nerves for the rest of the day.

According to a U.S Census’s Motor Vehicle Accidents and Fatalities report, on average, there are 6 million car accidents in the United States. But how many of those accidents are really accidents?

Right now, as your eyes glide across the words in this article, someone is planning a staged accident. Seasoned swindlers – including unethical doctors and lawyers – have formed crime rings that bilk insurance companies out of billions of dollars each year through staged accidents.

Insurance companies are not the only ones getting ripped off. Consumers also pay the price of staged accidents by way of rising insurance premiums. What’s worse, staged accidents are just a lead-in to other forms of auto insurance fraud.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), staged accidents set the stage for subsequent acts of fraud ranging from faked or exaggerated injuries to unnecessary or excessive medical treatment.

Take for example the case of Mikhail Zemlyansky, a Long Island man who is now serving 15 years in prison for masterminding the nation’s largest no-fault auto insurance scam. Prosecutors alleged that Zemlyansky and more than 30 others cheated auto insurers out of hundreds of millions of dollars and conned more than 300 victims, including the elderly, out of $17 million.

“The Zemlyansky case is a stellar example of how teamwork among the feds, NYPD, the National Insurance Crime Bureau and major insurers put one of the nation’s most-prolific automobile crime rings out of business,” says James Quiggle, director of communications at the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Quiggle also emphasizes the importance of consumer awareness in helping to fight fraud rings.

MORE: What to Expect in Traffic School

“Alertness by consumers to see the warning signs of a staged crash in progress or at the scene of a crash can play a big role in combating large, organized rings that are elbowing into insurance fraud,” Quiggle says.

Fortunately, staged accidents are not difficult to spot and prevent. Even at the crash scene, there are telltale signs that can help investigators determine if it is an attempt at fraud.

Common types of staged car crashes:

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Swoop and squat

You are driving along in traffic and without warning, a car pulls in front of you and intentionally hits the brakes causing a rear-end collision.

Drive down

You are attempting to merge into freeway traffic when a driver waves your car forward. You merge over and the driver deliberately crashes into your car, making it look like you are to blame for the accident.

Sideswipe

You are making a left turn from an intersection with dual left-turn lanes.  You drift slightly into the other lane so the driver sideswipes you.

T-Bone

You come to a complete stop at an intersection and then cautiously proceed through when a driver slams into your vehicle and claims that you ran the stop sign.

Wave-in

You are driving in heavy traffic and want to switch lanes.  A driver waves you in and then slams into the back of your car claiming that he or she never waved you in.

Start and stop

You are driving along in heavy traffic.  The driver in front of you starts to accelerate and as you begin, the driver slams the brakes causing a rear-end collision.

Warning signs that you were involved in a staged accident:

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  • The damage to the vehicle is minimal but the driver and passengers all complain of back and neck pain.
  • The driver of the other vehicle or a complete stranger who shows up shortly after the accident provides a referral to a repair shop, doctor and/or lawyer.
  • A tow truck immediately pulls over and offers to tow you.

According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, you can protect yourself against falling prey to accident scams by following a few tips:

  • Never tailgate.
  • Apply your brakes if you see traffic slowing ahead of you.
  • Count the number of passengers in the car(s) you collided with and get their names, phone numbers and driver’s licenses.
  • Take cell-phone pictures of the other car, the damage it received — and the passengers.
  • Call the police to the scene. Get a police report with the officer’s name, even for minor damage.
  • Get involved if you are a witness. Watch for the warning signs of a scam.