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The Fraud Report

Massive CA Staged Accident Fraud Ring Disbanded

by FraudReport 28. August 2017 08:10

Investigators in Sacramento say dozens have been arrested in one of the biggest insurance fraud ring cases they've ever seen, while California Department of Insurance officials say these types of crimes are becoming more common in the area.

According to CBS News and investigators, over 60 people helped carry out an elaborate fraud ring that spanned several years, used over 100 vehicles, and attempted to bring in around $500,000. Claims ranged from $5,000 to $40,000 and involved about 10 insurance companies.

The ring leader, 30-year-old Michael Young, has since been sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

California Department of Insurance investigator Clint Herndon said, "These guys were staging collisions—that was the typical scheme–which means they were crashing cars into each other, they knew both parties involved in the collision, and reporting these collisions to the insurance company and collecting on the losses."

There are a total of 65 suspects, most of whom were identified during the 16-month investigation into the ring. In some cases, investigators say participants paid others to use their information to file claims, though in most cases they stole the identities. Investigators contacted some people who knew nothing of the reported collisions or the vehicles involved, Herndon said.

According to The Sacramento Bee, the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office worked with the Department of Insurance to file charges against 18 of those people; 9 of whom, including Young, have been sentenced after entering pleas.

In addition to Young, defendants who have been sentenced so far are: Paris Lache Elliott, 27; Lonnie Gene Thompson, 27; Ladaezsha Dorrough (Jackson), 21; Ebony Rashone Kirk, 37; Melvina Ann Castro, 29; Cameron Nunally, 25; Ariel Chanel Graham, 27; and Alyce Marie Peterson, 55. Their sentences range from 30 to 210 days in county jail.

Those whose cases are pending are: Dwon Maurice Ross, 27; Marcellus Belvin Lang, 29; Rochelle Edith Virginia Goodwin, 27; Tiara Kim Elliott, 19; Erin Kim Elliott, 20; and Tanisha Jayanna Earnest, 24.

Arrest warrants are outstanding for 3 others: Jazlyn Ladana Burrell, 20, of Vallejo; Lavina Louise Nunally, 26; and Desiree Patricia Vasquez, 22, both of Sacramento.

Young was arrested back in April of 2016; his charges included several felonies, such as insurance fraud, possession of stolen vehicles, identity theft and possession of firearms by a convicted felon.

Herndon said Young owned and operated a tow truck and bought cars, including many that were already damaged. He would then recruit friends and relatives to participate in the scam, sometimes also providing them with cars for the staged collisions and the information they needed to file claims afterwards.

Young often provided his accomplices with scripts that included specifics about the vehicle, the vehicle identification number and details of the purported accidents to use when calling the insurance company to file a claim. Some of the suspects allowed their identities to be used in filing the claims and cashed the checks issued in their names.

Herndon said none of the cars were reused, also noting that Young had a large number of vehicles and accomplices to help avoid detection by fraud investigators.

Though it is nice to be able to purchase insurance and file claims online, it has also made it easier for people to commit insurance fraud. However, technology is improving, which allows insurance companies to better their analytical capabilities, allowing them to more quickly identify potentially fraudulent claims. Thanks to advanced technology, investigators with the California Department of Insurance and the California Highway Patrol were able to cross-reference insurance claims, making it easier to crack down. They also say there's a new trend. Career criminals with extensive rap sheets are now carrying out the crimes.

Herndon said detectives were finally able to pin the crime on Young after watching one of his vehicles over a weekend. It had remained parked throughout the weekend, though Young took it to an insurance office on Monday and filed a claim, saying it had been damaged over the weekend.

Herndon said Young towed the vehicle to within about a block of the insurance office, and after filing the claim and receiving a check for $7,000, he hooked the vehicle back up to the tow truck and drove away.

That is a perfect example of what this scheme involved, which are known as “paper collisions.” These involve vehicles with existing damage or crashing vehicles into each other, making most or a lot of the claimed damage only exist on paper. However, these schemes often escalate into targeting unsuspecting drivers.

Herndon made an example of one case in which a woman deliberately backed her car into the front of another vehicle, and then claimed she was rear-ended. The woman’s scheme backfired however, when the black box on the victim’s vehicle revealed that it wasn’t moving when the crash occurred.

In instances such as these, and because many law enforcement agencies don’t respond to take reports on non-injury collisions, Herndon said drivers should take steps to protect themselves against fraudulent claims. He recommended photographing the damage to all vehicles involved, as well as any evidence at the scene, such as skid marks. He also advised taking photos of the other driver and of all passengers in the vehicle.

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Categories: Staged Accidents