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Accident scammers target trucks for financial payout
Last Updated: Sun, March 10, 2019
A spate of fake accident claims against commercial vehicles in the New Orleans area highlights a growing problem for trucking companies.
Robert Runnels, a driver for Mississippi-based Whitestone Transportation, learned the hard way what it is like being targeted by a "cash for crash" scam. He told how he was flagged down by a motorist on Interstate 10 a little over a year ago and informed that his 18-wheeler had sideswiped another vehicle.
There was no damage to his truck, however, and there were no impact alerts recorded on his on-board data system.
That lack of evidence has not stopped the "victims" from suing, and Whitestone is set for trial this month facing what they believe is an obviously fake accident scheme that is out to reap a hefty reward from the commercial carrier. The complainants, there were several in the vehicle, are seeking $1 million in damages from the carrier for medical expenses, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, physical pain and suffering and inconvenience.
During preparations for the trail Whitestone's attorneys have discovered evidence of more than 30 other "accidents" in the New Orleans area with similar MOs to their own incident.
“These similar questionable facts included alleged accidents on Interstate 10 and/or 610 in the New Orleans area where an unknown third vehicle waves down an 18-wheeler driver that is unaware that he or she was allegedly involved in an accident,” Whitestone attorneys said in a counterclaim.
According to the Transport Topics news article, the New Orleans area has been experiencing a large number of similar cases that involve multiple people in a vehicle that sideswipes a commercial truck, but where there is little damage to their vehicle, and little or no damage to the commercial vehicle.
Furthermore, the commercial vehicle driver usually is unaware of having hit another vehicle.
The problem is that these scammers know that trucking companies are easy pickings for their scam.
Chance McNeely, executive director of the Louisiana Motor Transport Association, says why he believes trucking companies are victims of such staged accidents. “In our state, trucks are guilty until proven innocent,” he said.
“It’s always the same thing: Four people in a sedan, and there’s always a random witness who gives a loose statement to the cops and has a random appointment and has to get away," McNeely said. "And all too often they use the same attorneys and the same doctors."
McNeely said these kinds of scams drive up insurance rates; which he said in Louisiana are three to five times higher than the national average.
A short history of staged accidents
A blog at Automotive Fleet magazine gives some insight into this staged accident scenario.
Apparently this phenomenon got legs in the United States in the 1990 by scammers who would hire immigrants for as little as $100 to cause a crash with a commercial vehicle. Authorities became aware of the scam when one driver, Jose Luis Lopez Perez, died in his effort to effect the scam and it was discovered that he was part of a widespread fraud ring.
These "cash for crash" schemes are becoming a world-wide problem, with countries like the United Kingdom, Russia, Australia and Singapore reporting escalating incidences.
In the United States, the states most prone to commercial vehicles being targeted by these scams are what are called no-fault states, where laws require insurance companies to reimburse policyholders for medical expenses no matter who is at fault.
The states with the highest number of these incidences are Florida, New York, California, Texas and Illinois, with the top five cities being New York City, Tampa, Miami, Orlando, and Houston.
What are the typical staged accidents
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, there are some typical scenarios that will get a commercial driver ensnared in a fake accident scam. The more-sophisticated scammers have "witnesses" to these fake accidents who add their stories to the police reports implicating the innocent truck drivers.
- The Drive Down -- On entering traffic the truck driver is motioned by a "helpful" scammer motorist that it is safe to do so. But, as the driver begins to merge, the scammer speeds up and crashes into the truck. Naturally, the scammer denies making the helpful gesture.
- The Left Turn – A truck driver wants to make a left turn off the road into a destination and receives a gesture from a "helpful" motorist to go ahead and complete his turn. The scammer then speeds up and crashes into the truck, knowing that in virtually every case the truck driver will be "at fault" for failure to yield to oncoming traffic.
- The Panic Stop – A vehicle driving in front of a truck has a passenger watch for the truck driver to avert his gaze for a second who then alerts the scam driver to make a panic stop. When the truck rear-ends the vehicle it is a guaranteed win for the scammer because virtually everywhere it is considered the truck driver's fault for following too close.
- The Panic Stop With Friend – Same as the panic stop, but even more aggressive. This is where the scammer has an accomplice or two who drive alongside the victim trucker, thus preventing him or her from being able to change lanes to avoid the collision with the panic stopper.
- The Side Swipe – This one usually occurs at double left-turn lanes where the scammer side swipes the truck claiming the truck driver had driven outside his lane.
How to Avoid Becoming a Victim
The NICB offers these tips to avoid becoming a victim of these types of fake accident scams:
- Avoid tailgating.
- Immediately call the police to an accident scene.
- Use the camera function on your cell phone or carry a disposable camera to document damage and the number of occupants in other vehicles.
- Avoid “runners” and “cappers” – people who suddenly appear at an accident scene to try to direct you to particular doctors and attorneys, as they are typically part of the criminal scheme.
- Be wary of physicians who insist you file a personal injury claim after an accident, especially if you are not hurt.
- Steer clear of tow trucks that appear when you have not called for service, as they are often “cappers” for body shops.
Sources: Transport Topics, Automotive Fleet, NICB
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