By Charles Fleming, Nay 23, 2014
The driver in the small sedan next to the van is about to find himself
in a staged accident, when the white Escalade slams on his brakes and
causes a pileup.
Staged car accidents and insurance fraud are on the rise in Southern
California, and the National Insurance Crime Bureau and the Los Angeles
Police Department are fighting back.
They made a movie.
they have produced four new high-definition videos presenting
reenactments of typical car accident scams -- including one called
"Swoop and Squat."
The NICB says the staged accidents are conducted by organized groups
-- working in teams and often using multiple vehicles and drivers at a
time -- to entrap unwitting motorists into forking over cash to pay for
damage, and to defraud insurance companies by filing bogus injury claims
resulting from the phony fender-benders.
"These illegal accidents
are not only illegal and costly, but they also present a real danger to
innocent drivers," said Joe Wehrle, the NICB's president and chief
executive. "And without knowing what to look for, these innocent victims
may not realize they were targeted."
The problem is particularly chronic in Los Angeles, which is "the
staged auto accident capital of the U.S.," said Nancy Kincaid of the
California Department of Insurance. "Because of the sheer volume of
cars, and the density of the traffic, this is ground zero."
LAPD-produced videos present four scenarios in which the targeted victim
is made to look responsible for a rear-end or side-swipe collision. The
teams of scammers may include multiple drivers in multiple cars, as
well as "witnesses" on the sidewalk.
LAPD Det. Gary Guevara, who works in the auto fraud unit of the
department's commercial crimes division, says the criminals prey on a
certain kind of victim -- middle-aged, well-dressed, employed and
driving a nice car that is likely to be insured.
Two bad guys in
separate cars will pull into a lane in front of the victim. A third
driver will pull up into the lane next to the victim.
driver will slam on his brakes, causing the second driver to slam on his
brakes too. Meanwhile, the third driver will pull in close to the
victim, cutting off his escape route.
The victim slams into the
back of the second car. The first driver, who started the whole thing,
speeds off. The third driver acts as witness. The victim, of course,
doesn't know that the three drivers were working together.
scam can also involve the collusion of auto repair shops, doctors,
chiropractors and lawyers who are all participating. The car that the
victim hits may be filled with passengers recruited to get "injured" and
In other cases, the criminal is working alone or
with only a small team. Often the amount of the claim is so small that
it's really not worth the insurance company's trouble to investigate.
In one new wrinkle, Guevara said, young Latino men on bicycles in the
San Fernando Valley are throwing themselves in front of passing
automobiles, then demanding small amounts of cash from the drivers.
guys are actually getting hit," Guevara said. "And the driver really
thinks it's his fault. And since it's only $200, the average Joe is
always going to pay the money and get out of there."
police are also seeing an increase in staged accidents on area freeways,
where higher speeds can make the practice deadly.
"No cameras," Guevara said. "These days, there's cameras on every street
corner -- in the liquor store, outside the marijuana dispensary. That
makes it easier to get tape that shows fraud. On the freeway, there's no
The videos were produced at the LAPD's Emergency Vehicle Operations Center in Granada Hills.