FORT MYERS, Fla. - The number one reason your insurance premiums keep going up: elaborate crime rings trying to make money off what you think is a car accident. Insurance investigators and insurance companies say these crooks stage accidents and then cash in on the $10,000 personal injury protection, or PIP, portion of your auto insurance.
Fourteen Collier County residents head to court next month, all on charges of defrauding insurances companies out of more than a million dollars. They include medical providers, drivers and passengers who investigators say teamed up to stage accidents but ended up busted by the Collier County Sheriff's department.
"Every licensed driver in the state of Florida that has auto insurance pays on the average $400 more a year than people who live outside the state of Florida. That's how large a problem it is in this state," said Frank Napolitano, an investigator with the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The law enforcement community needs your help to crack down on this crime. That's why the NICB, Allstate, and the Fort Myers Police Department teamed up to help us show you exactly how it works.
First, they showed us the "swoop and squat." It involves three cars. The first car swoops quickly in front of the second which then slams on his brakes. That leaves an innocent car, the third in the line, to slam into the back of that second car.
Next, there's the "stop-sign wave." This involves two cars stopped at an intersection. The bad guy will wave you through. Then, just when you pull through the intersection, he'll hit the gas and T-bones you.
Third, there's the "stop short." The bad guy slams on his brakes so you slam into him.
As if the accidents aren't bad enough, then the crooks have people outside of the car hop in the back seat. Each of these people is worth $10,000. If you figure four people in a car, that's $40,000 in just one vehicle.
"They're not hurt they're not going to have real medical treatment. They're going to sign blank medical treatment forms and then the clinic is going to send them off to the insurance company in increments for billing," explained Napolitano.
Those false claims add up to millions of dollars.
"All of this staged fraud, all of these accidents affect your premium," said Allstate spokesman, Justin Herndon.
He says fraud makes up an estimated 20% of your insurance premium. He and insurance investigators hope this information will help more people report fraud when they see it happen.
"It's hard enough to realize that people are out there intentionally causing an accident, but then to include the fraud and pass on those costs to innocent drivers is even worse and it's happening every single day," said Herndon.
If you see fraud happen you can call 1-800-TEL-NICB or go to their website, https://www.nicb.org/home
You can also text your information to TIP411, keyword, "FRAUD"
Florida is only one of 12 states that requires this PIP coverage.