Was That Auto Accident Really an Accident?

Man and women examining car after accident.
Be aware of auto accident insurance scammers. Getty Images/Guido Mieth

Some auto accidents aren't accidental. They are staged events executed by scammers. Their sole purpose is to make money from your auto liability insurance. Here is a typical scenario.

The Unsuspecting Business Owner

It is a weekday morning and Jennifer Jones is in her pickup truck. Jennifer, who owns a landscape design business, is driving on a local road to a job site. Suddenly, a car swerves into her lane, cutting off the car in front of her.

The driver ahead of Jennifer slams on his brakes, stopping so suddenly that Jennifer can't avoid rear-ending him. The driver that caused the accident roars off, leaving the scene.

The car that Jennifer rear-ended has four occupants, including the driver. Jennifer is relieved that none of them seems to be hurt. When a policeman arrives, Jennifer tells him that the driver who initiated the accident has fled the scene. Unfortunately, the occupants of other vehicle contest her story. They say that Jennifer caused the accident as she was negligent! The policeman seems to agree as he cites Jennifer for following too closely. Reluctantly, Jennifer phones her commercial auto insurer to report the accident.

It is now four weeks later. Each of the four occupants of the vehicle Jennifer hit has filed a claim against her. All are seeking damages for bodily injury. The driver is also seeking compensation for property damage.

Jennifer thinks this is odd. Immediately after the accident all four claimants were laughing and joking. She has a feeling that the accident wasn't what it seemed.

Swoop and Squat

Jennifer was a victim of insurance fraud. As she suspects, her "accident" was not an accident. Rather, it was what the National Insurance Crime Bureau calls a "swoop and squat." A "swoop and squat" generally involves an innocent victim and two criminals, each of whom drives a separate vehicle.

Criminal #1 positions his vehicle in front of the victim's car. Criminal #2 cuts in front of Criminal #1 so that the latter slams on his brakes. Criminal #1's sudden stop causes the victim to rear-end him. Criminal #2 then drives away. Like Jennifer, the victim is typically held liable for the accident because he or she "caused" the rear-end collision. The victim's insurer pays the claims that result.

Side Swipe

In a second type of staged accident, a criminal side swipes the victim's vehicle while he or she is making a left turn. According to the NICB, criminals often target busy intersections that include double left-turn lanes. A criminal stakes out the outer turn lane. As the victim moves from the inner to the outer lane, the criminal side swipes his or her vehicle. Because the victim was changing lanes when the accident occurred, he or she is held liable for it.

Panic Stop

This type of staged accident is similar to the "swoop and squat" in that the goal is to trigger a rear-end collision. However, a panic stop involves only two vehicles, the criminal's and the victim's. Typically, the trigger vehicle contains "lookouts" who scan the road for distracted drivers (such as someone talking on a cell phone).

Once the lookouts locate a suitable victim, the trigger vehicle moves in front of the victim's vehicle. The driver suddenly slams on the brakes and the victim rear-ends the trigger car. Later, the "injured" occupants of the trigger car file claims against the victim and collect payments from the victim's insurer.

Drive Down

Suppose that you are trying to merge into a line of traffic. Another driver waves at you, signaling that he's letting you in. When you move forward, however, the "friendly" driver crashes into your vehicle. When police arrive, the other driver says that you misinterpreted his gestures. You've just been the victim of a "drive down."

Here's another version of  a "drive down." You are trying to make a left turn (perhaps into a parking lot). Before you have completed the turn, Criminal #1 blocks your path.

While you are stuck in the opposing lane, Criminal #2 slams into your vehicle. You are held liable for the accident because you failed to yield to oncoming traffic.

Protect Yourself Against Staged Accidents

Staged accidents can be difficult to avoid. Nevertheless, here are steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim. Be sure to pass these tips along to your employees.

  1. Don't tailgate! Also, keep an eye on traffic ahead of you so you can react to sudden changes.
  2. If you are involved in an accident, call the police. Obtain a report of the accident.
  3. Record the names and contact information for all occupants of vehicles involved in the accident. If someone whose name you have not recorded later files a claim for an injury allegedly sustained in the accident, you will know that the injury is likely fake.
  4. Take pictures of the accident scene with your smartphone so that you have a visual record of the event.
  5. Don't respond to unsolicited offers from people who appear at the scene of an accident. Examples are tow truck drivers, attorneys, and anyone who urges you to see a specific health care provider. These "helpful individuals" may be more interested in your wallet than your welfare.