Officials in South Carolina say a rising number of staged automobile crashes are becoming a problem in the state.
The Post and Courier of Charleston cited authorities who said faked crashes were part of a scam that resulted in charges filed in November against 10 Pee Dee-area residents for insurance fraud involving nearly $300,000 in altered medical bills.
The newspaper also cited a report in which perpetrators of fake car accidents in Dillon and Florence counties struck each other with boards and threw each other into trees to create injuries they said happened in wrecks which authorities determined were staged. Two men in Allendale County parked their car on railroad tracks so a train would hit it and then returned to the scene feigning injuries. Scammers in Anderson County underestimated the impact of crashing their vehicles into each other and unexpectedly wound up in the emergency room, according to news reports.
“This is a dangerous problem that not only puts innocent drivers at risk, but also requires emergency crews to respond to these staged crime scenes, which wastes taxpayers dollars,” said Alan Wilson, state attorney general, in the Insurance Fraud Division’s most recent annual report released in 2016.
South Carolina had 223 insurance claims in 2014 suspected of being staged accidents, which was nearly triple the number of that type of claim from four years earlier. The problem continued at the same pace in 2015 when some 118 questionable claims thought to staged wrecks were recorded in the first six months of the year, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The state ranks in the Top 10 for suspected fraud per 100,000 population for all types of insurance. Wilson’s office received 1,915 insurance fraud complaints in 2016, which was more than triple the number of complaints in 2010. In the past two years, investigators have seen a troubling rise in organized crime rings involved in insurance scams, including staged accidents, arson and forged prescriptions for medications sold on the black market.
Premiums have also been rising because South Carolina drivers are getting in more wrecks, the damage is getting more expensive to repair and the state’s auto insurers have been passing along the bill. The state’s 10 largest auto insurers increased premiums an average of 8.9 percent in 2016, according to the Insurance Department, more than double the rate of change they recorded in 2015.
As part of the fight against costly insurance scams, the NICB and law enforcement review hundreds of questionable claims annually in South Carolina. From 1995 to 2016, insurance fraud investigations resulted in 1,498 criminal convictions.
“Of particular concern, despite being in the Top 10 nationally for insurance fraud, our state ranks near the bottom in funding to fight this problem,” said David Fernandez, the assistant attorney general who directs insurance fraud prosecutions.
Last year, four full-time State Law Enforcement Division agents were assigned to investigate insurance fraud, which was double the number from the previous year. But the South Carolina insurance fraud unit budget of $354,000 pales in comparison to North Carolina and Virginia with budgets of $2.8 million and $5.3 million, respectively. The Tar Heel State has 20 insurance fraud investigators, according to the 2016 S.C. Insurance Fraud Division report.
“Like water, fraud and crime travel the path of least resistance,” Wilson said in the report. “South Carolina can no longer be a place where these criminal are able to thrive.”
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