Dozens charged in car-crash insurance fraud
SAN DIEGO — Nearly three dozen San Diego County residents have been charged in auto insurance fraud cases prosecutors say netted $1 million across the state.
Thirty-five men and women from San Diego County were charged in 30 separate cases, District Attorney’s Office officials said.
“In this state we have a big problem with people either with no auto insurance, or under-insured,” Deputy District Attorney John Philpott said Wednesday.
Many of those people, he said, get involved in a crash, sign up by phone moments later with an insurance carrier, and file a claim later that day saying the damage occurred after the policy went into effect.
Sometimes the uninsured motorist will phone a family member or friend from a crash site and have them quickly get the insurance policy in place, Philpott said. He said there were five such cases in San Diego County, and those suspected of aiding the fraud also have been charged with fraud.
He said his office prosecuted about 150 auto insurance fraud cases last year, most of them initiated by insurance companies suspicious about certain claims.
“There is more auto insurance fraud out there than we have the resources to investigate,” Philpott said.
That’s why prosecutors in San Diego and 21 other California counties teamed with the state Department of Insurance to focus on new cases, with claims totaling more than $1 million, from August through October, he said.
Philpott said that in most cases, the fraud was discovered before the claims were paid off.
Over a three-day span at the end of October, investigators across the counties served warrants and made arrests in what they called “Operation Crash and Buy.” In San Diego, investigators had police officers and deputies serve suspects with letters notifying them to appear in court to face charges.
A total of 187 defendants statewide were charged with crimes including filing a false insurance claim, concealing an event involved in a claim, attempted arson and filing a false police report.
“This type of fraud is more common among people who don’t have a criminal record,” Philpott said. “They think the worst thing that can happen is that the insurance company won’t pay the claim. No, the worst that can happen is that they can be charged with fraud.”