Picture this: You’re waiting to pull out of a gas station parking lot, but traffic just isn’t letting up. Finally, someone slows down and waves you through, so you look both ways and pull in front of him, waving a quick thank-you. And then, WHAM! The kind soul who let you in speeds up and slams into you. When you get out of your car to ask him what happened, he says he didn’t expect you to drive into him…but not to worry, it’s no big deal — this has happened to him before and he knows just what to do.
This is just one of several common “accidents” staged by (seemingly innocent) fraudsters hoping to score some quick cash, and they aren’t afraid to drag honest people like you into their well-planned schemes. These staged collisions are often followed by exaggerated repair costs, fake medical bills, and made-up legal fees — all of which can result in hefty insurance claims and payouts that can pad their pockets or help fuel their organized crime rings.
In most cases, your fellow drivers are just trying to be nice when they wave you through, so give them the benefit of the doubt — but always trust your gut and know what to watch out for. Take note of some of the telltale signs of a staged collision, some steps you can take to avoid being involved in one, and how you can protect yourself if you’ve already been hit.
Signs that your accident was no accident at all
It’s not always easy to spot a staged collision, but there are some typical “tricks of the trade” that should make you question if it might have happened on purpose:
- As in the example above, another driver stops and waves to let you in, but proceeds to drive into your vehicle as soon as you make your move
- Another driver cuts you off and immediately slams on the brakes for no apparent reason, causing you to rear-end his car
- The other driver is eager to leave the scene and asks you to meet up at the collision reporting centre before you’ve had a chance to assess the situation or take down information like the vehicle’s make, model, and licence plate number
- A tow truck shows up right away and recommends a specific repair shop instead of asking where you’d like to take your vehicle
- The tow truck driver begins asking you questions about the accident or recommends you visit a certain medical facility or lawyer (be cautious when discussing anything but the condition of your vehicle, and consider recommendations very carefully)
- The other driver — or the tow truck driver — asks you to sign any kind of document (never sign anything at the scene)
Avoid being an easy target
Distracted driving is a fraudster’s best friend. Criminals often look for a target who is clearly distracted, and it only takes a few minutes for a professional to assess your habits. Here’s what they’re looking for:
- Anyone who is looking down, checking their phone or texting
- Drivers who are on the phone or having an animated “hands-free” conversation
- Hungry and thirsty drivers who just can’t resist the urge to eat or drink while driving
- Drivers who are looking at the mirror in their flipped-down visor (checking their teeth, fixing their hair, etc.)
Remember, fraudsters have their eyes on the prize, so keep your eyes on the road!
What to do when you believe you’ve been involved in a staged accident
Every situation is different, and spotting one or more of the signs above doesn’t always mean your collision was staged. When in doubt, consider taking the following steps:
- Call 911 and be sure to tell the operator you think you’ve been involved in a staged collision. An officer will go to the scene to investigate.
- Take note of how many passengers are in the other vehicle. This prevents the other driver from making fraudulent medical claims for people who weren’t even there.
- If there are any witnesses who weren’t involved in the accident, politely ask them to stay at the scene until police arrive — or ask for their contact information if they’re in a hurry.
- Take pictures of the damage to both vehicles while you’re still at the scene.
- Record the other vehicle’s licence plate number, make, and model. The other driver also has to provide you with their licence information, proof of insurance, and the name of the vehicle’s owner (as listed on their registration documents). If they refuse, report it to the police.
- Report the accident to your broker as soon as possible. Give them all of the information you gathered and tell them about anything you found unusual about the accident.
- When a claims representative contacts you, confirm that they have the same details you provided to your broker — and make sure they understand why you believe the accident was staged.
Make the right call
Not only are car insurance scams expensive for insurance companies, but over time, an increase in false claim payouts can lead to higher premiums for everyone who has car insurance. Plus, if you’re held responsible, you could face police charges and your own insurance premiums might increase.
It’s not always possible to predict or prevent a staged accident — but if you suspect someone is planning an insurance scam or has already gone through with one, please take the time to report the crime.