Mercury Insurance hosted an event to educate police and emergency medical personnel on staged “accidents.”
By Jason KUROSU
In order to demonstrate what goes on behind the most common attempts at auto insurance fraud, Mercury Insurance sponsored a staged car crash event in Glendale on the morning of Jan. 15 for local law enforcement and emergency medical personnel.
Using a couple of cars claimed in fraud cases, members of Mercury’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) crashed cars at low speeds, showing what the auto damage in a typical slow speed impact would look like and how that contrasts with claims of serious collisions and/or injuries.
Members of the Glendale and Burbank police departments, as well as emergency medical technicians, watched as members of the SIU rear ended, sideswiped and T-boned cars, while rarely exceeding speeds of seven miles per hour.
Mercury Insurance’s Special Investigations Unit was formed in 1978 and has put on similar demonstrations for insurance investigators, some of which included setting cars aflame. Thursday’s event was the first such demonstration for members of law enforcement.
“What’s good for us is good for them,” said Dan Bales, national director of Special Investigations, who said that such events are one of the many resources for training that Mercury has employed over the years.
According to Bales, insurance fraud costs the average consumer $400 to $700 a year in premiums. Not only does Glendale have the most accidents per capita in the state, but also has five times as many as the average city according to Bales, necessitating an even greater need for law enforcement and first responders to be able to weed out staged collisions.
“We chose Glendale because the average driver in this area will report an accident once every three years, which is significantly more often than the statewide five year average,” said Bales. “Our goal is to keep innocent people from falling victim to tactics such as the swoop and squat or the drive-down, which cost the average family up to $700 in insurance premiums annually.”
Law enforcement officials in attendance could see how the amount of damage created, even when driving at slow speeds, appeared fairly significant but paled in comparison with the typical destruction of true full speed collisions.
“This vehicle crash seminar held by Mercury Insurance helps our detectives and police officers to identify when individuals report fraudulent collision claims,” stated Glendale traffic Sgt. Craig Tweedy. “By educating our officers about the tactics criminals make, we’ll be better at combatting automotive insurance fraud.”
By using event data recorders, which log the information from the crashes including vehicle speed, movement and position, investigators could monitor a number of aspects of the impacts, including the fact that one of the cars was stationary. Parked car collisions are naturally a large indicator of fraud.
Glendale Police Officer Ed Malouf said that officers typically look to physical evidence such as chipped paint to determine if an accident is actually a case of fraud, but also said that events such as Thursday morning’s were helpful, as far as actually seeing live collisions.
“We’re always learning,” said Malouf.
The most recent information from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) stated that 40,959 “questionable” claims occurred in California in the year of 2012 alone, with questionable claims including fake injuries and suspicious auto collisions.
For more of Dan Holm’s photos, visit www.cvweekly.com/NEWS.