Consider this scenario: You're stuck in heavy traffic on a busy highway. Another car cuts off the driver in front of you, forcing him to slam on the brakes. You try to stop, but there's no time ... and you rear-end the guy in front of you.
An everyday accident? Not this time. Turns out you've been had by a well-organized criminal ring that staged the entire thing.
This particular scam is called the "swoop and squat." (The first car "swoops" in while the second car "squats" in front of you.) After the "accident," everyone in the car you rear-ended-usually crammed full of passengers-will file bogus injury claims with your insurance company. Each will complain of whiplash or other soft-tissue injuries-things difficult for doctors to confirm. They may even go to crooked physical therapists, chiropractors, lawyers, or auto repair technicians to further exaggerate their claims.
We're talking big money here. Staged accidents cost the insurance industry about $20 billion a year. Those losses get passed on to all of us in the form of higher insurance rates-an average of $100-$300 extra per car per year.
Here are some similar scams to look out for:
The drive down: You're attempting to merge when another driver waves you forward. Instead of letting you in, he slams into your car. When the police arrive, he denies ever motioning to you.
The sideswipe: As you round a corner at a busy intersection with multiple turn lanes, you drift slightly into the lane next to you. The car in that lane steps on the gas and sideswipes you.
The T-bone: You're crossing an intersection when a car coming from a side street accelerates and hits your car. When the police arrive, the driver and several planted "witnesses" claim that you ran a red light or stop sign.
How can you protect yourself?
If you're in an accident, call the police immediately.
Report accident claims to your insurance company. Don't settle on site with cash.
Be careful with your personal information, mindful of identity theft.
If you can, photograph the car and passengers and write down names, addresses, and phone numbers.
Use medical, car repair, and legal professionals you know and trust. Don't tail gate ... drive safely.