Investigators say a staged a car crash in West Palm Beach could have cost insurance companies more than $52,000 and resulted in the arrest of two men on Tuesday.
It’s a scam that investigators say is very popular in South Florida.
With several cities ranked in the top 10 nationally for staged accidents over the past few years, the National Insurance Crime Bureau ranks Florida first in the nation for the crime, Florida State Farm spokeswoman Michal Brower said.
The West Palm Beach crash happened on Aug. 23, 2010, when Amado Rodriguez, 45, of Lake Worth, tried to make a U-turn on Congress Avenue at about 10 p.m., according to a Florida Division of Insurance Fraud report.
Investigators say Rodriguez and passenger, Rene Aquino, 45, of Miami, admitted they were never injured in the crash, but they later billed insurance companies for 38 treatments. Both were paid $2,000 for participating in the scam, according to investigators.
They face fraud and larceny charges and were booked into the Palm Beach County Jail. Rodriguez was released on Tuesday on $10,000 bail, and Aquino was released on Wednesday on $15,000 bail.
Florida Department of Financial Services Spokeswoman Alexis Lambert says the prevalence of the crime plays a role in the “dramatic rise” of car insurance rates.
Insurance fraud helped lead to an 80 percent jump in car insurance rates over two years in the Miami area. From 2008 to 2010, Lambert said a married man or woman, age 40, with no accidents, had an average annual rate of $528 jump to $1,050.
And as the number of staged accidents increases, don’t expect rates to drop any time soon. A 2009-10 report released by the Florida Department of Insurance Fraud listed 123 convictions for staged accidents. The number jumped to 171 convictions in 2010-11 and 189 convictions in 2011-12.
Fighting the crime means focusing on groups with ringleaders who typically gather up people, multiple times, to maximize their return for a staged crash, Lambert said.
She suggests people look for suspicious activity like two cars full of people backing into each other, then calling the police.
The number of PIP scams helped lead to changes in the coverage at the start of the year in Florida. As of Jan. 1, a person has 14 days to seek medical treatment after a crash while previously there was no limit.
People who offer tips to authorities on scams can earn up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.