There’s not much that can happen to a driver on the road that’s worse than getting into a collision. Running out of gas, getting a flat, or even having a mechanical breakdown can be stressful, costly and inconvenient, but being involved in a car accident has to be the worst.
But not so fast.
There is one thing worse than getting into an accident, and that’s getting into a collision someone has caused on purpose. These “staged collisions” have been a problem for years. They are a means for organized criminals to tie up emergency responders and they defraud citizens, the healthcare system, small businesses, and the insurance industry. Beyond netting criminals a lot of money, these collisions routinely risk the health and safety of ordinary citizens and first responders and they require costly investigation.
Most citizens won’t be involved in a typical staged collision since criminals of this stripe are most often in organized rings and they hold what they refer to as “fraud parties”, where passengers in both vehicles are involved in faking a crash and then claiming benefits for faked injuries. The money paid by insurance companies is then split among several people who are in on the scam. However, in some cases, criminals involve innocent motorists and passengers through what’s known as a “caused collision”. In a caused collision, unsuspecting motorists are ensnared as “marks” in the plot.
In researching this subject, I spoke with Allstate Director of Claims, Kevin McConkey. Kevin knows a great deal about staged collisions. He’s worked in Allstate’s Claims department for almost 30 years and he also represents Allstate Canada on a cross industry, anti-fraud initiative known as CANATICS.
In our conversation, Kevin explained that there are several common iterations of the caused collision where fraud perpetrators target regular motorists. He outlined four types he felt everyone should look out for:
1. The “swoop and squat”
The swoop and squat is a fairly common (and dangerous) move fraud perpetrators use to cause crashes. “This typically involves the driver of the fraud car to pull up alongside your vehicle before speeding up and ‘swooping’ in front of you before stopping short, or ‘squatting’,” said Kevin. “And this causes you to rear-end them.” The swoop and squat can be done with one car, but sometimes is done with two. The second car will either be:
a) right beside you so you can’t avoid a collision. You’ll either hit the car in front of you or the car beside you, or
b) directly in front of you so that when the swooping squatter slams on his brakes, there is a multi-car pile-up when it’s all over.
2. The “start and stop”
“This one usually takes place in heavy traffic when things are moving very slowly,” said Kevin. “You’re at a standstill, and suddenly the driver in front of you begins to move forward, so you follow, but then the car in front suddenly slams on the brakes before you can do the same.” Kevin also pointed to cases where cars in this situation have rolled backwards into vehicles stopped behind them in order to cause a collision.
3. The “left turn bullet”
The left turn bullet often happens when pulling out of a driveway, or at an intersection when you don’t have the right of way. A “courteous driver” waves you out of the driveway, or to make your left turn through an intersection, at which point they proceed to plow into you. When it’s all over, you’ll be deemed to be at fault because you didn’t have the right of way.
4. The “drive down”
“The drive down usually takes place at a local shopping mall and is very similar to the left turn bullet,” says Kevin. As you’re waiting to leave your parking space, the fraud perpetrator will signal for you to back out, and when you commit to leaving your parking space, they will run into you and claim that you “backed into them.”
Kevin believes that beyond investing in a reliable dash camera, also known as a dash cam, vigilance offers the best protection to avoid being drawn in. People who try to pull innocent drivers into caused collisions will often try to do so late at night or in situations where there are few witnesses. So if you happen to be out late, or are in an area where there aren’t many other cars around, be extra cautious, and always keep the following in mind:
- Always be aware of your surroundings, and drive defensively.
- Never proceed through an intersection or make a turn in situations where someone is offering you the right of way. Even if that driver isn’t trying to get you into a collision, your actions could confuse others nearby, leading to an actual accident.
If you’re unlucky enough to become involved in what you think might be a caused collision, Kevin instructs drivers to protect themselves by doing the following:
- Do not readily accept assistance from a tow truck that just “happens” to arrive on the scene. Some schemes involve tow truck drivers who will tow your vehicle (at an inflated price) to an affiliated shop that will also overcharge you to hold or repair your vehicle. Ask questions and do not feel obligated to accept the tow if you don’t feel comfortable.
- Do not sign anything from a tow truck driver you didn’t call unless you’re sure of the charges and conditions on the documentation and be sure that the document is completely filled out to your satisfaction before you sign.
- Contact your insurance company immediately when you’ve been involved in a collision. Whether the crash is a real or staged event, your insurer can walk you through what to do next and protect your interests.
- Report the incident. The only way to protect others from being sucked into this type of situation is to report it if you suspect something is off. You can speak to the police, or report it to the Insurance Bureau of Canada.
We don’t often think about the impact that crimes like this can have, but they can be far reaching, affecting:
- Innocent drivers. Being pulled into a staged collision puts the average person in danger of injury and can also hit them in the wallet. Good drivers can see an increase on their premiums since they will be considered to be “at fault” for the caused collision.
- Multiple industries. Insurance companies aren’t the only ones affected by these scams. Vehicle repair shops and medical service providers can all be affected negatively by having to deal with injuries and damages that are completely fabricated.
- Emergency responders. Police and EMTs often spend time assisting fraud perpetrators who are taking up time and resources that could be going to people who actually need their assistance.
- Everyone. Investigating and fighting insurance fraud costs a significant amount of money. In Ontario alone, the cost of fraud on the insurance industry is roughly $1.6 billion per year. This is money that comes from the premiums paid by drivers on the road.
Kevin and I wrapped our conversation with him pointing me to information online about staged collisions and what’s being done to fight it. The CANATICS website has a great deal of information about avoiding fraud and how it affects everyone. He closed by telling me that, “knowing what to look for can be the difference between getting caught up in a scam, and arriving safely at your destination.”
Have you seen or heard about any other types of scams on our roads? Or do you have any tips about avoiding caused collisions that we didn’t mention here? Let us know what you think in the comments. And don’t forget -when you see auto fraud – report it! Alert the IBC on their website or give them a call at 1-800-IBC-TIPS.