New York drivers warned to avoid staged auto crashes

West Hempstead man convicted of staging more than 30 crashes

WASHINGTON, DC (02/07/2014)(readMedia)-- This week's conviction of a West Hempstead man who staged more than 30 automobile crashes to steal no-fault insurance money should serve as a reminder for all New Yorkers to be alert for such scams on the highways.

The advice for drivers was issued by the New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud (NYAAIF).

Maxo Jean, 52, was convicted in federal court in Manhattan of organizing crash rings and arranging for fake accident "victims" to receive bogus treatment at corrupt medical clinics. Jean received more than $150,000 in insurance payouts and kickbacks from the clinics, prosecutors charge. He faces up to 20 years in federal prison when sentenced May 6.

"Dozens of crash rings are operating across New York. Drivers must be ever vigilant to avoid becoming an innocent victim of scams that raise the price everyone pays for auto insurance," said Jim Berrigan, NYAAIF board chair.

Berrigan offered these tips to drivers:

• Never tailgate. Allow plenty of space between your car and the car ahead of you. This will give you ample time to stop if the lead car suddenly jams on its brakes.

• Look beyond the car in front of you while driving. Apply your brakes if you see traffic slowing.

• Be cautious if a seemingly friendly driver waves you into his or her lane of traffic. Scammers will crash into you and say it was your fault. This is called the "drive down" scam.

• If you're in an accident, count how many passengers are in the other car. Get their names, phone numbers and driver's license. More people may file claims than were in the car. Also get the car's license plate number.

• How do the passengers behave? Do they stand around and joke, but suddenly act "injured" when the police or EMT arrive?

• If a 'witness' shows up on the scene and immediately takes the side of the other driver, get contact information and alert police and your insurance company. The witness may be a plant.

• Take cell-phone pictures of the other car, the damage it received and the passengers.

• Call the police to the scene. Get a police report with the officer's name, even for minor damage. If the police report notes just a small dent or scratch, it'll be harder for crooks to later claim serious injuries or car damage.

• Get involved if you're a witness. Watch for the warning signs of a scam, and help the honest victim with details.

Staged crash gangs colluding with corrupt medical clinics have spread across New York in recent years, Berrigan said. "They see bogus claims against the state's no-fault auto-insurance system as easy money with low risk of getting caught."

New York does not have a specific fraud law and penalties for people who stage auto accidents.

The New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud is a statewide coalition of more than 100 insurance companies. Its mission is to raise public awareness about insurance fraud and its high costs.

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