Northern Va. Police Bust Staged Accident Ringleaders

By | October 12, 2005

Authorities are taking aim at ‘swoop and squat’ accident scams
They call it the “swoop and squat’.’ A driver pulls in front of another vehicle and slams on the brakes, deliberately causing an accident to collect the insurance money.

Authorities in northern Virginia have busted three fraud rings in the last six months that employed the swoop and squat and other tactics to cheat insurers out of more than $1 million.

“Driving in this area is bad enough,” said U.S. Attorney Paul McNulty at a press conference. “The last thing we need is to suffer the threat of roving bands of criminals … deliberately driving into our cars as we go about our business.”

McNulty’s office has convicted or is in the midst of prosecuting about 20 people in three separate fraud rings. One fraud ringleader was sentenced to almost six years in prison; a second received more than three years.

The fraud rings use a variety of tactics. Some will crash cars, either stolen or purchased on the cheap at auctions, into stationary objects. Other times participants will stage accidents among themselves, and still other staged accidents will ensnare innocent drivers.

Two of the three fraud rings busted in northern Virginia would at times target innocent drivers. McNulty said at least four innocent drivers were targets of one of the rings, including a man who lost his insurance coverage as a result.

Most of the money comes from bogus medical claims that are filed in connection with the staged accidents, using either forged medical bills or disreputable doctors who rubber-stamp claims of soft-tissue injuries.

“Fake injuries are the mother lode of staged accidents,” said James Quiggle with the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a nonprofit watchdog group funded by the insurance industry and consumer groups.

In northern Virginia, local state and federal authorities formed a task force, Operation Moving Target, after an Arlington police officer making a routine traffic stop learned that the cars involved had been stolen from Indiana. Arlington Police learned that police in neighboring Fairfax County were conducting a similar investigation, and the task force was formed, said Arlington Police Capt. Rich Alt.

Quiggle said staged accidents are a persistent problem in urban areas, and becoming a larger problem as fraud rings grow more sophisticated.

“There’s more ruthlessness, more efficiency and more profitability for these fraud rings,” he said. “There’s a smarter breed of criminal coming into this arena.”

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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