Why Not Set Yourself on Fire?

Humans are strange animals.  And they do really stupid things in failed attempts to cheat insurance companies out of money.  That's the conclusion you have to draw after viewing the files of Progressive Insurance fraud investigator Ray Albertini.  Of course, insurance fraud is no laughing matter.  It's a serious crime that costs consumers a lot of money. The National Insurance Crime Bureau estimates that property and casualty insurers pay more than $30 billion a year in bogus claims, and those additional costs are generally passed on to consumers in the form of higher premiums.

"People think of insurance fraud as a victimless crime when, in fact, honest policyholders end up being victimized," said Albertini, Progressive's national director of special investigations. "Most insurance companies base their rates on the cost of doing business. When costs go up because of fraudulent claims, other customers end up paying the price. People need to be aware of fraud and be willing to report it when they suspect it."

Some criminals might think they're being clever when they try to cheat insurance companies, but often they end up making mistakes that get them caught, injured and sometimes even killed.  While some offenders who commit fraud are never brought to justice, others, as Albertini's files suggest, seem to be begging to be apprehended.  Consider if you will:

The Ex Post Facto Purchase

One fairly common type of insurance fraud people commit is buying coverage after their car has been damaged. This after-the-fact purchase of insurance can be difficult to prove, but some perpetrators have had the audacity to buy coverage literally from the scene of the accident itself. Take the case of the motorcyclist who wiped out and, while lying on the side of the road with a ruptured spleen, had the presence of mind to call 1-800-PROGRESSIVE to buy coverage. What he didn't know was that a witness who saw the accident also heard him make the call.

In another case, a couple's car caught on fire. With the car in flames, the husband got on the phone with the insurance company to buy a policy, but the fraud was uncovered when his wife was overheard yelling in the background that the car was about to explode.

Playing With Fire
Remember the old saying about playing with fire?  Well, we doubt that the brilliant criminals who hatched the following fraud scheme expected to get burned, but they did.  Figuring the easiest and quickest way to collect insurance money was to destroy his car by setting it on fire, the car's owner hired two brothers to torch his ride.  But he apparently hired the mentally handicapped.  The two brothers doused the vehicle with gasoline, and to make sure the vehicle would be completely destroyed, they decided to throw in a pipe bomb. The plan immediately went awry because when the bomb exploded, it set one of the men on fire. He was likely killed instantly from the explosion, but his brother, not realizing that his brother had passed, rushed to extinguish the flames and ended up catching fire himself. He ran toward a nearby highway for help and flagged down a state trooper who had come to investigate the black cloud of smoke. The man told the trooper what he and his brother had done and then, like his brother, expired from his injuries.

We'll have more "Insurance Fraud Files" next week in this space, as we continue to document the simple fact that crime doesn't pay.

Driving Today Managing Editor Jack R. Nerad also writes frequently on true crime.