Every disaster — whether by airliner smart bomb or Ma Nature’s hurricanes — brings out a sordid bunch who see dancing dollar signs amid the strewn rubble.
The 911 scams were especially sordid because they played off of incalculable human suffering. Less than a week after 3,000 Americans died fiery deaths, Charles Gavett sadly told life insurers that his beloved wife Cynthia had perished in the collapse.
Cynthia was finishing a job interview with the investment firm Cantor Fitzgerald when a hijacked airliner plowed into the gleaming tower, Charles insisted. Cynthia hadn’t been seen since, and Charles sought more than $628,000 to help salve his grief.
How touching … except Cynthia was quite alive and well. She and Charles were living openly in Concord, Ga.
They figured insurers wouldn’t investigate claims involving such a profound national tragedy.
But insurers did investigate. Cynthia even invited a sheriff’s deputy over for the Thanksgiving holiday. The court invited the Gavetts over for 10-year jail terms.
Elderly New York City millionaire Beatrice Kaufman owned a $5-million apartment in Manhattan. She tried to charge insurers and charities about $1 million for renovations to her apartment and non-existent damage to her lawyer-recruiting business office.
Kaufman claimed the attacks forced her to leave her apartment and business for months. She racked up huge bills staying at a swanky hotel. In fact, she moved out before the attacks while renovating her unit. She tried to connive insurers into paying for the work. Kaufman received 52 weekends in an un-renovated jail cell.
In West Chester, Ohio, a man filed a $100,000 life-insurance claim, saying his father died when the Towers went down. His father lived in India.
People tried to bilk charities and relief agencies as well. Dozens of scams quickly showed up. Con artists hoped to quickly slip make-believe stories through the system amid the confusion after the Towers and Pentagon erupted in flames.
Expect similar cons as the Hurricane Hermine floodwaters retreat. You may see claims for flooded cars that drivers purposefully left near the beach. A Florida man filled his six-figure Rolls Royce with a garden hose after Katrina, claiming it was flood-damaged. Claim denied.
Floodwaters carried away (untraceable) high-priced home electronics, supposed Hermine victims might claim. Wind and debris and siding wrecked roofs that the homeowners damaged themselves.
Insurers are on high alert. They want to pay honest claims. Likely they’ll quickly pay as many claims as possible to make homeowners whole. Then the insurers will circle back to investigate claims that bears warning signs of fraud. Some blatant scams will be denied right up front.
So what can you do?
Aside from the obvious — don’t scam because insurers rightfully are watching — why look the other way when a neighbor brags about a Hermine scam, or any insurance con? Report them to the insurance department.
Honest Americans are trying to put their lives back together. Nobody needs knuckleheads taking the easy way out while the vast majority of Hermine victims play fair.
Americans suffer enough after unfathomable disasters. We all grieve for the victims. Insurance scammers who exploit human tragedy are an affront to all of us.
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.