25 Aug Don’t be a staged car accident victim: Common schemes, warning signs, & tips
Fake insurance claims are real — here’s what you should know if you’ve been a victim of a car accident scam
The prevalence of staged car accidents around the nation is increasing. In fact, in June a husband and wife were sentenced to four years in prison for staged automobile accident that resulted in $4.7 million in settlement. And it gets worse — attorneys who specialize in vehicle accidents are behind much of the orchestration.
For example, Sean Alfortish, a disbarred attorney (and the same man who was convicted for rigging horseman’s association election), helped Cornelius Garrison stage accidents in exchange for money. Garrison is a “slammer” whose job is to collide with tractor-trailers, buses, company cars, and other big or luxury vehicles. If you thinking a person risking their life in this way for some money is insane — wait, there’s more!
Attorney Vanessa Motta, whose television commercials for her law practice feature her work as an on-screen stuntwoman, helped secure a fraudulent $650,000 settlement in an accident that Garrison staged. And here’s the real kicker: Alfortish (previously mentioned) is Motta’s fiancé. What’s the connection? Alfortish was paying Garrison to cause the wrecks and referring the legal work to Motta. Talk about being desperate for money/business/power.
Related reading(s): NOLA couple who staged 2015 car accident get prison time, must pay $4.7M
This article is focusing on:
Common driving schemes to look out for
Warning signs that you’ve been a victim of a staged car accident
Tips to avoid becoming a victim of a staged accident
COMMON DRIVING SCHEMES TO LOOK OUT FOR
Left Turn Drive Down1
You are driving down a four-lane road preparing to make a left hand turn. As you stop to make the turn, a driver heading the other way slows to a stop, waves to you to go ahead and turn. As you move ahead to complete the turn, the driver who waved you through suddenly moves forward blocking your entrance to the parking lot. To avoid an accident, you stop. However, another car coming down the road slams into the side of your car. The car blocking the entrance leaves the scene making it appear as though you are at fault for pulling into oncoming traffic. 
Right Turn Drive Down2
You pull up to an intersection preparing to make a right-hand turn. You start to make the turn when suddenly another vehicle runs into the back-left side of your car. 
Curb Drive Down3
You prepare to pull away from a curb and merge into traffic. It’s clear, so you drive ahead. Suddenly, a car crosses from the left lane and deliberately crashes into you. 
On an ordinary city street: This typically involves three vehicles, two driven by criminals and the third by an innocent victim. The driver of the “squat” vehicle pulls in front of the victim’s car. The driver of the “swoop” vehicle pulls in front of the squat vehicle, causing the driver of the squat vehicle to hit his brakes. The victim cannot react in time and rear-ends the squat vehicle. The swoop vehicle races off and is not seen again.
On a freeway or expressway: Similar to the above, but four vehicles are typically involved, with three belonging to criminals. In this variation, the third criminal boxes in the victim so he cannot change lanes when the swoop vehicle cuts off the squat vehicle. Following the crash, the swoop and box-in cars speed off, again forcing the victim’s insurer to pay the claim. 
Related reading(s): Staged Accidents are “Big Business”: Don’t Become a Victim
4 WARNING SIGNS OF A STAGED CAR ACCIDENT
Perpetrators tend to target seniors and drivers of expensive cars or business vehicles — victims they anticipate have insurance and/or money to pay for the alleged damages. So in addition to fitting into any or all of these target demographics, keep a look out for these 4 signs that an accident you’ve been involved in might be staged:
Individuals involved are leaving the scene before giving their personal information. While exchanging information with a driver in the incident, you notice that other individuals involved are leaving the scene. Be suspicious of any driver or passenger who refuses to give you their personal information. Insist on obtaining relevant identification information on all persons involved in the collision, including their names, addresses, phone numbers, vehicle license plate numbers, drivers’ licenses and insurance carriers.
Tires are cushioned. The other vehicle has rubber tires or other objects in it to cushion the occupants from the impact of the collision.
Other involved driver doesn’t want to involve the police. The driver of the other vehicle — immediately or soon after the collision — insists on settling the matter between the two of you without involving the police or auto insurance companies. Play it safe and do not give cash to anyone at an auto crash scene as a way to settle damages. Any offers to settle an auto accident claim should be made directly to your insurance carrier.
The other driver asks for your wallet to write down personal information from your driver’s license and insurance card. Never give your wallet to anyone at an accident scene. This is a tactic used by some criminals to steal money or identification cards and credit cards from the senior’s wallet or purse at the accident scene.
Related reading(s): LADA: Staged Auto Collisions
It’s sad to say that staged auto accidents are actually a big business these days. So much so that most people who are victims of staged collisions don’t even realize the “accident” was staged.
TIPS TO AVOID BECOMING A VICTIM OF A STAGED ACCIDENT
☑ Avoid tailgating. When someone is driving behind someone too closely, they increase the risk of an auto accident. There are many reasons for tailgating, but whatever the reason, it’s always dangerous.
Drivers must leave a sufficient distance between their car and the car in front. If there is too short a distance between the cars, they could cause a collision if the vehicle in front stops suddenly (an unsafe driving habit that’s way too common (hence the reason car scammers use it as a tactic in staged accidents)).
Related reading(s): DO YOU KNOW HOW TO AVOID TAILGATERS?
☑ Use the camera function on your cell phone or carry a disposable camera to document damage and the number of occupants in other vehicles. The goal here is to stay calm, focused and methodical. With nothing more than a smartphone’s camera app, you can document the damage, which can not only speed up the claim, but also help tell your side of the story.
Related reading(s): How To Document Damage After An Auto Accident
☑ 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.
Runners* and cappers are the middlemen in the fraud scheme. The runner or capper recruits the occupants to be involved in a staged (or paper) accident. They have an arrangement with either a medical provider or lawyer or both, getting either a percentage of the take or a set fee per person.
*Runner: Provides the “story” for the occupants. The occupants load into a car and hit the road looking for their victim.
At the same time, you also want to be wary of physicians who insist you file a personal injury claim after an accident, especially if you are not hurt. Seeking unnecessary treatments or undergoing unnecessary surgery at the “professional suggestion” of a physician might be part of their way to make more money. However, you can sue after a car accident even if you were not hurt and only your vehicle incurred damages.
Related reading(s): CAN I SUE AFTER A CAR ACCIDENT IF I WAS NOT HURT?
Steer clear of tow trucks that appear when you have not called for service, as they are often “cappers” for body shops. This means they likely have an arrangement with a body shop and will get either a percentage of the take or a set fee per person.
DON’T BE A VICTIM OF A STAGED CAR ACCIDENT — PAY ATTENTION TO THE ROAD
If any of the above indications apply to your accident, jot down details of the accident, take pictures of damages, call your insurance company and do not follow up with the attorney, clinic, or auto repair shop recommendations made by the other involved driver(s). We simply can’t stress this last part enough!
Your auto insurance company can help out by using their sophisticated resources to help uncover the sting. If you’ve been injured or suspect you’ve been a victim of a car accident scam, contact the police.
With offices in California the home office being in San Bernardino, CA, we’re one of the leading personal injury and wrongful death firms representing people injured in motor vehicle accidents on roads and highways in the Inland Empire region.
If you feel you’ve been involved in a staged car accident, contact us for a free consultation. We have earned our reputation of being the leading personal injury and wrongful death firm in Southern California through the hard work of our attorneys like partner William D. Shapiro, and we’re here to help you through this difficult time.