America’s chief thieves were dishonored with election into the notorious Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. The No-Class of 2018 has it all — except a moral compass.
They’re America’s nine worst convicted insurance plotters of 2018. They’re the dons of deceit, and chiefs of chicanery. Firefighters died, and so did an infant. Addicts were plied with life-threatening drugs, and insurers lost hundreds of millions dollars.
Still, the Shamers play a useful role. People remember fraud stories and cases better than data and invectives. Extreme schemers like the Shamers thus are memorable. They help show consumers that insurance fraud is a morally bankrupt, no-win proposition. People also like lists. So the Shamer concept can easily work at the state levels — whether it’s called the Hall of Shame, Top 10 Scammers, … another catchy name.
Among this year’s dishonorees:
Burning desire. Two firefighters died when the brick wall of a burning nail salon collapsed on them in Kansas City, Mo. Salon owner Thu Hong Nguyen set the fire for $50,000 of life-insurance. She was handed 74 years in prison.
Whiplash backlash. Felix Filenger and Andrew Rubinstein recruited crash victims to abuse their insurance policies with bogus whiplash treatments in a mammoth $23-million fraud binge in South Florida. Filenger received 6 ½ years in prison, and Rubinstein six years.
Maladjusted adjuster. Homes were burned and flooded to look like accidents in a $14-million soaking of insurers in South Florida. Crooked public adjuster Jorge Fausto Espinosa was beached with 20 years in prison.
Baby killer. Erica White poisoned her infant son Tyrael with codeine in a bid for $50,000 of life insurance. The Atlanta-area woman received life without parole.
Bribes for blood. Dozens of doctors betrayed their oath of honest medicine in a plot to steal $100 million in bogus blood tests using Biodiagnostic Laboratory Services, in New Jersey. David Nicoll received six years in prison.
An inspiring tagline can brighten up anti-fraud campaigns by grabbing the attention of information-saturated consumers in one quick glance. Those three or four words become a rallying cry that people remember.
Many people still remember the “Just Say No” ad campaign for the war on drugs from more than 30 years ago. Many also still recall “Give me liberty, or give me death.” Patrick Henry’s famous quote rallied the American Revolution nearly 250 years ago.
Stoking consumer revolutions against fraud takes much the same inspirational tack. Whether it’s a local charity event or regional campaign for Fraud Awareness Week, a tagline rallies anti-fraud efforts. They’re a memorable wordplay of emotions and information that every campaign needs.
Here are several shoutouts by anti-fraud groups:
“Insurance Fraud. Report it. End it.” So urges fraud fighters in New Jersey. It’s the brainchild of the state Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. It’s part of a statewide, three-month ad blitz the state agency launched this fall to encourage more people to report scamming.
The tagline shouts loudly on a webpage the agency unveiled to encourage more people report scams for investigation. The campaign coincided with Fraud Awareness Month. The state’s top insurance-fraud cop Tracy Thompson conducted news interviews and educational events to call attention to fraud — show consumers how to identify and deter scams.
“Don’t do it. Don’t tolerate it. Report it.” This deterrent nugget goes after potential workers-compensation cheaters. Billboards, bus ads, posters and other tools have flooded San Diego county. They’re part of a campaign by the San Diego DA. Scam referrals and busts in the county increased once the campaign reached full speed.
“Only Weasels commit insurance fraud.” So goes the screwball tag of the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority. The state agency has a cartoon fraud weasel named Weasy. He tries to get away with cons. Usually Weasy screws up and is put on the run by investigators. Much of the action appears in TV spots that IFPA airs around the state.
“They Cheat. You Pay.” The Insurance Bureau of Canada used this tagline for an auto-themed consumer campaign. Drivers were treated to a list of warning signs that they’re being set up for staged crashes.
Townhall meetings are proving an effective way for frustrated small businesses to build ties and share case leads about workers-comp scams with county prosecutors throughout California.
Workers-comp fraud is an estimated $4-billion drain in the state each year. A single injury ring can steal millions of dollars in false injury claims maneuvered by doctors, attorneys, chiros and others.
Employers can feel powerless against fraud rings that drive up workers-comp premiums by promising workers cash, free healthcare and other benefits for filing bogus workers-comp claims.
Employers and insurers are fighting back with county District Attorneys around the state. Enter the Workers’ Compensation Action Network (WCAN). It’s a coalition of employers and insurers in California. The group is partnering on townhall meetings with DAs in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego counties.
The goal is to forge closer connections among frustrated employers and county fraud prosecutors.
• First … provide a venue for DAs to educate employers how to spot and report workers-comp fraud.
• Second … give Southern California employers a direct line to the DAs to tell them what comp crimes they’re seeing on the front lines.
Hundreds of employers have turned out for the townhalls this year.
DAs want to hear from business owners about fraud violations. The case leads can generate busts and convictions, Orange County DA Tony Ferrentino told employers at a meeting.
A restaurant owner told Ferrentino about bogus injury claims by her longtime employees. All were filed by a Santa Ana law firm. She provided the attorney’s name. The attorney was involved in a similar case, which led to his criminal indictment, the DA told her. The new leads added more potential evidence for prosecution.
Contractors spoke about how to level the playing field with businesses that illegally avoid buying comp coverage for employees. That dominated the discussions at a meeting with the San Diego DA’s office.
Business owners received dozens of flyers to post at their worksites, warning that workers-comp fraud is a crime. The flyers are based on a successful anti-fraud campaign by the San Diego DA on TV, radio, billboards and bus ads.
In addition to sponsoring the townhalls, WCAN works on anti-fraud legislation and other reforms to California’s workers-comp system.
“County DAs have stepped up their pursuit of workers’ compensation fraud in California,” said Jerry Azevedo of the Workers’ Compensation Action Network.
“Through increased enforcement and new anti-fraud tools passed by lawmakers in Sacramento, we’re seeing more results. It’s not just about saving money. It’s about protecting the health and safety of injured workers who are treated like commodities by fraudsters.”
Watch out for Swamp Things creeping up on North Carolina residents after Hurricane Florence. These are larcenous contractors and other scammers who’ll try to soak flood-rattled residents a second time. The insurance department’s online HurriClaims Center is full of helpful consumer claims info — including how to avoid shady contractors.
And to Keep Swamp Things away: Take photos when you return back home, insurance commissioner Mike Causey urges residents in a statewide alert. … Beware of contractors or roofing reps who go door-to-door. … Call your agent or insurer before signing a repair contract. … Work only with licensed and insured contractors. … Get more than one estimate. … Don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away. … If you suspect a scam, call the state fraud bureau.
Fraud isn’t a game, though educating consumers about scams can be. Gamify your anti-fraud messages. Encouraging people to play informational games is an effective way to promote a social cause like insurance fraud to consumers.
One approach: Create a website fraud quiz that makes people interact with, and think about, this crime.
“Test your knowledge of common scams and see how you can keep yourself from getting conned,” urges Consumer Reports in its quiz about broadband fraud schemes.
Imagine a website quiz with questions about insurance scams. … Know when you’re being set up for a staged crash. The “swoop and squat” happens when:
1) A car jumps in front of yours and jams on its breaks.
2) Tries to veer you off the road.
3) Waves you out of a parking space, then causes a t-bone crash.
4) Maneuvers you into a head-on collision.
Games are rarely used in anti-fraud efforts, though maybe they should be. People enjoy playing games. Lowkey contests are fun, sociable and motivating — especially if people can score points and reach a high skill level. Especially, games can attract busy Millennials who’ve been raised on video games and like the thrill of the hunt.
There are lots of reasons fraud fighters need to teach Millennials how to keep from getting scammed. One reason: They’re a big population bulge of about 80 million young adults and insurance buyers.
Another reason: They get conned — more than twice as much as people over 70. Here are five traits of fraud victims, regardless of age:
• Eager for bargains. Millennials are always on the lookout for a deal.
• Vulnerable to persuasion. “This health-insurance deal is only good for the next 24 hours.” Watch out for pressure tactics.
• Lack defensive strategy. Victims don’t think before buying after a sales pitch.
• Willing to take risks. Reaching for that gold-plated deal can be dangerous.
• Going through rough spot. Going through a trauma like money loss? Could be trouble.
How much should fraud fighters talk publicly about getting scammed — airing dirty laundry? Each insurer has a strategy that’s right for its situation. Some are cautious about saying much. Some are selective.
Texas Mutual is wide-open to talking about its workers-comp cases. The insurer reasons: Going public better educates consumers about fraud in the Lone Star State, and shows people that the insurer is working hard to protect its policyholders’ best interests.
“We really believe that the more we can talk about our anti-fraud efforts, the more likely it will serve as a deterrent for people who might be thinking about committing fraud. We’re proud to be open and honest about our commitment to stopping workers’ compensation fraud,” the insurer says in Insurance Business.
“We know that customers who buy workers’ compensation insurance from us really value our fraud prevention efforts. We believe we put more resources into it than anyone else here in Texas and we’re getting some great results for our policyholders. Our openness also helps to educate the public about workers’ compensation fraud and raise awareness about the impacts fraud can have.”
Even as newsrooms continue losing staff in cost-cutting moves, TV remains an effective way for alerting local residents to watch for scammers. Reaching out to local reporters with fraud alerts and trend ideas can inspire news stories that show the community why fraud is an outlier crime that costs everyone.
Consider Irene and Gary Kelton. They’re stuck with a blue tarp over their Louisville, Ky. home after a contractor stiffed them after agreeing to put in new lid on their home, they say.
“You have to really, really be careful. Perfect hindsight to other people, whoever comes, make sure to ask lots of questions, check them out online beforehand,” Gary told a local TV reporter doing an expose on their plight. “Where I fell in was the guy claimed to be another vet. I spoke to his work crews, and the guys who came out, at least from my experience, appeared to know what they were doing.”
Alert TV reporters also helped drivers watch for setup crashes by airing victim run-ins with cons in Florida.
Wei Tsang contacted a TV station in Tampa with a story that helped drivers pay closer attention to staged crashes. Tsang had two things the reporter wanted most: A great consumer story, and video footage.
Tsang’s dashcam recorded a setup wreck that WFLA aired as an alert to all drivers. Tsang says he was stopped at a red light when the driver in front of him rolled backward, hitting his car. His dashcam recorded the whole thing.
Tsang and the other driver pulled over. “She asked me, ‘Can I have your insurance card?’ I was like, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘You hit my car,’ and I said, ‘No, you hit my car,’” Tsang explained.
He played his dashcam video for the woman, yet she still insisted Tsang hit her. A police officer soon arrived. The woman asked him to not mention the crash, and just say they were talking, Tsang said. That’s when Tsang said he knew this was a setup for a dodgy injury claim. The officer let the woman go, telling Tsang there wasn’t much damage.
Illegal brokering of addicts to use their medical identities for false rehab and lab-testing claims has raised wide concern in the rehab industry.
Some communicators urge more honesty and transparency in recruiting patients for addiction treatment.
“Have regular meetings with your team and transparency around referral relationships. Ensure every member of the team is informed.
“This should already be in effect, ethically, but stop quotas. Quotas for the number of people each representative brings into a facility each representative brings into a facility each month creates a competitive and darker energy around an organization.”