Signs You’ve Been Victimized and What to Do Next
Last updated September 16, 2022
There are about 17,000 car accidents across the country each day. Most of us do our best to avoid traffic crashes. But did you know that some motor vehicle accidents are staged? You may be surprised to learn just how common fraudulent car accidents are.
Why Would Someone Stage a Car Accident?
The answer, in short, is money. Faking a car accident is a surprisingly common type of insurance fraud.
While auto-related insurance fraud is a problem nationwide, South Carolina has more than its share. A 2020 report from the Office of the Attorney General noted that although the state is ranked 23rd in terms of population, South Carolina came in 17th in number of questionable claims submitted and 8th for number of staged car accident complaints.
Nearly 30% of fraudulent auto insurance claims in South Carolina were concentrated in three counties: Richland, Charleston, and Greenville. Car insurance companies aren’t the only ones hurt by this type of fraud: though the car accidents are staged, the collisions are real–and so is the risk of property damage and injury. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) estimates that auto insurance fraud nationwide costs about $40 billion per year, and that the average family pays hundreds of dollars per year in extra automobile insurance premiums because of it.
Automobile insurance fraud is big business, and it’s usually perpetrated by organized groups. The players may include drivers, passengers, witnesses, medical providers, tow truck drivers, auto repair shops, and even personal injury lawyers.
Here’s what you need to know about staged vehicle accidents.
Common Car Accident Scams
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has identified these common types of staged car accidents. Understanding how they happen may help you avoid the collision. If you are involved in a staged car accident, this information can help you recognize that you’ve been a victim and protect yourself against consequences such as financial liability and increased automobile insurance rates.
Swoop and Squat Schemes
According to NICB, there are two variations on this scam: one that occurs on surface streets and another designed for interstate traffic.
- Surface street swoop and squats typically involve two vehicles driven by scammers. One–the “squat” vehicle–positions itself in front of the victim’s car. The other–the “swoop” vehicle–cuts in front of the squat vehicle. The squat vehicle driver slams on the brakes to avoid hitting the partner vehicle. The victim rear-ends the squat vehicle.
- Freeway swoop and squats are similar, but there are typically three vehicles driven by scammers. The third pulls alongside the victim to ensure that the driver can’t avoid the accident by swerving into the next lane.
Side Swipe Schemes
This scheme typically only requires one vehicle driven by a fraudster and occurs at an intersection with two or more turn lanes. The scammer positions their vehicle in the outer turn lane and watches for the vehicle in the inner lane to slightly cross the line into the outer lane, then sideswipes the vehicle. These intersections are often carefully chosen for a combination of high traffic, design that leads to frequent drift into the outer turn lane from the inner lane, and a high concentration of newer vehicles.
Panic Stop Schemes
The panic stop scam involves more than one scammer, but just one vehicle. The driver gets in front of the target and then one of the passengers monitors the target and gives the scam driver a signal when the target driver gets distracted, such as looking down at a phone or GPS. Then, the scam driver slams on the brakes, and the victim crashes into them. Sometimes, the scam driver will disable their brake lights to ensure that the victim has no warning.
Drive Down Schemes
In the drive down scheme, the scam driver gestures to another driver to merge in front of them. But, when the victim starts to merge, the scammer speeds up and crashes into them.
Protecting Yourself Against Fraudulent Car Accidents
While there are many types of staged accidents, you’ve probably noticed that most of them have something important in common: they take advantage of a mistake the victim makes. For example, both the swoop and squat and the panic stop can usually be avoided by maintaining a safe following distance and staying vigilant. In fact, that’s why the victim is typically found responsible for this type of staged car accident. A driver who rear ends another vehicle is almost always found to be at least partly liable, since a driver should always leave sufficient space to stop if the vehicle in front of them has to stop suddenly.
Similarly, the sideswipe typically happens when the target vehicle slightly crosses the lane marker. Since the scam driver was in their own lane and the victim encroached, the victim is at least partly responsible.
Of course, everyone makes small errors on the road occasionally. And, avoiding the behaviors that make one an easy target, like following too closely or looking down at a phone while driving isn’t a guarantee that you won’t fall victim to a staged auto accident. But, driving defensively can help protect you from motor vehicle accident fraud.
What Happens after a Staged Car Accident?
The moments after a motor vehicle accident can be fuzzy and confusing under the best of circumstances. A car crash is disorienting, and some people involved in collisions go into shock. If you’re the victim of a staged motor vehicle crash, that confusion will likely be aggravated.
Often, “witnesses” will immediately come forward. They may falsely say they saw the victim do something wrong, or they may rush to “help” the victim and recommend a doctor or a car accident lawyer.
Some of the steps you should take to protect yourself after any automobile accident–even if you don’t suspect that it was staged–include:
- Calling the police promptly and making a report
- Exchanging insurance information with the other driver or drivers involved in the accident
- Taking names and contact information of any witnesses to the crash
- Taking photos before the vehicles are moved, if possible–scammers sometimes increase the damage to vehicles or work with mechanics who exaggerate the damage after the fact to increase their claims
- Not relying on attorneys, medical providers or others recommended by strangers at the scene (take the information they offer, though–if it does turn out to be a staged accident, that information may be helpful to the police)
- Calling for your own tow truck, unless police are having vehicles removed–tow trucks that show up unsolicited at the accident site may be part of the scheme
- Letting emergency responders check you out at the scene if you’ve been hurt or are uncertain, and following up with your own physician or a reputable emergency medical provider as needed
If you believe you’ve been the victim of a staged car accident, contact the NICB (1-800-TEL-NICB) or the South Carolina insurance fraud hotline (1-888-95-FRAUD).
Contact An Experienced Charleston Trucking Accident Lawyer As Soon As Possible
At The Hartman Law Firm, LLC, we understand how complicated trucking accident cases can be. They can even get more complicated if the truck drivers or companies attempt to hide liability. Luckily, our experienced attorneys know what to look for. Contact our offices today to discuss your options.
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