Hall of Shame Scams Shocking

By | February 10, 2008

The Coalition reports that nearly one of four Americans say it’s ok to defraud insurers. Some 8 percent say it’s “quite acceptable” to bilk insurers, while 16 percent say it’s “somewhat acceptable.”

No matter how many times we read the list of bizarre fraud crimes in the annual Coalition Against Insurance Fraud’s Hall of Shame list, most of us remain shocked at the strangeness and boldness of the scams.

An $80-billion-a-year crime, insurance fraud has grown more violent and invasive in recent years, the Coalition Web site says before listing the 2007 Hall of Shame “winners.” Some of the scams are listed for you in this issue on page 6. Below are some tales not listed on that page:

Timothy Nicholls. Three children died when Nicholls torched his Colorado Springs home to steal insurance money so he could escape mounting debt. He owed a motorcycle gang that had supplied him with methamphetamines, and his businesses were struggling. Jay-Jay, Sophia and three-year-old Sierra died of smoke inhalation. Nicholls received life in prison.

Christopher Michael Robertson. The Florida gay man torched his Lakeland mobile home in part for insurance money, but made the scheme look like a hate crime. Robertson spray-painted “die fag” across the front steps of the home he shared with his partner, then made a bogus claim for possessions he had placed in storage. Many people rallied to support Robertson in the face of seeming bigotry. Robertson is serving 18 months in state prison.

Changing Consumer Misconceptions

As bizarre as the scam stories are, the shocking fact is that most people condone or accept certain types of insurance fraud.

The Coalition reports that nearly one of four Americans say it’s OK to defraud insurers. Some 8 percent say it’s “quite acceptable” to bilk insurers, while 16 percent say it’s “somewhat acceptable.” About one in ten people agree it’s okay to submit claims for items that aren’t lost or damaged, or for personal injuries that didn’t occur. Two of five people are “not very likely” or “not likely at all” to report someone who ripped of an insurer, according to a 2003 report by Accenture Ltd.

A study by Progressive Insurance several years ago says that nearly one of 10 Americans would commit insurance fraud if they knew they could get away with it. Nearly three of 10 Americans (29 percent) wouldn’t report insurance scams committed by someone they know.

What do all these statistics tell us? While it is important to have insurance fraud criminals prosecuted and to have a Hall of Shame highlight the illegal deeds of the scam artists, we would all agree that it is important to continue to educate the public about how insurance fraud hurts all consumers through higher premiums.

Changing public attitudes about insurance scams may actually be a priority that the industry should consider more seriously, along with the establishment of funded state theft and fraud counsels, and individual company fraud units.

Topics Fraud

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