7News is taking a closer look at South Carolina’s fraudulent auto claims, after state agents charged an Upstate woman with staging a car crash to claim insurance money.
According to the Attorney General’s Office the Palmetto State ranks 7th in the nation for staged wrecks. To fight fraud, Alan Wilson’s Office hired 2 additional fulltime SLED agents dedicated to investigating insurance fraud.
In 2016, they looked at 1,915 complaints, of which 378 or 56% were automobile claims.
SLED Investigators say Tracy Michelle Whitten, from Anderson County, staged a car crash for a payout of $6,000 dollars. Now she’s facing up to 5 years behind bars and fine for making the false claim.
“I always jokingly say, the most honest people in the world lie by insurance,” Blair Mathis told 7News.
Insurance Agent Blair Mathis tells 7News it’s not just organized crashes that people are faking to cash-in, often times it’s something as small as exaggerating the damage to their vehicle or injuries sustained.
“Occasionally somebody will come in here and say we’ll be doing an application and ask them how many violations they’ve had in the past 5 years, and they’ll say none. Then we run the reports and say well this report shows you have 3…[and they’ll say] oh I didn’t know you were talking about speeding tickets,” Mathis said.
Insurance fraud seems like a quick payout for criminals. Some people go as far as packing cars with extra passengers including children to maximize claims.
Mathis believe it’s because big insurance companies find it cheaper to pay alleged victims, rather than taking cases to court. That’s driving up the cost of policies.
“The average family pays probably an extra $1,000 dollars a year in insurance cost, in premiums, just because of the fraud,” said Mathis.
Spartanburg Police Captain Timothy Suber says his patrol officers are trained to gather evidence during a collision. “What we really try to do is get independent witnesses to come forward to kind of tell us what they observed or heard,” he told 7News.
Suber says people staging wreck are wasting taxpayer money and misusing public resources when committing the criminal acts, but more than that they are endangering the lives of other drivers on the road.
29 fraud cases were closed in 2016, totaling $88,774.55 in restitution to victims.
Despite efforts to fight fraud the Attorney General says the state fraud bureau is the lowest funded in the region with a budget of $354,000 dollars. North Carolina’s fraud bureau has a budget of $2.8 million dollars and Georgia’s has a budget of $3.6 million dollars.