Schemes & Rip Offs: Slip and Fall Scams - Valley News Live - KVLY/KXJB - Fargo/Grand Forks

Schemes & Rip Offs: Slip and Fall Scams

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Insurance fraud involving property and casualty claims has become big business - costing American consumers an estimated $30 billion a year.  And one of the fastest-growing scams involves slipping and falling on purpose.

It's a cost of doing business.  A customer falls and the business has to pay.

But investigator Mark Sakalares, a special agent with the National Insurance Crime Bureau, says more than ever, slip and falls are turning out to be fake.

"They'll hit the big box stores. They'll hit some of the small grocery stores. But they'll hit all these places just trying to get a quick settlement," Sakalares said.

The surveillance video tells the real story.  One alleged scammer pours cider and puts a piece of fruit on the ground before tumbling.  Another creates a slick with a bottle of olive oil and performs not one fall, but two.

Often these scammers work in teams.  In one case a woman's partner plays lookout while she smears water on the ground, then fixes her hair before getting into position.  They tried to get $300,000, instead they were prosecuted for fraud.

But there's not always video of the crime and in some cases stores are so anxious to avoid a big insurance claim they may try and pay off the "victim" before even checking the tapes.

"They write these people a check for three, 500, even a thousand dollars just to make it go away," Sakalares said.  "And a lot of times the insurance companies are paying them a little quicker than they should because there isn't a lot of evidence to support not paying."

Since the financial collapse in 2008 the number of suspicious slip and falls reported to the NICB have shot up 57% nationally.

But no matter where these crimes happen it's customers around the country that pay the cost in higher prices.

Between increased prices at stores and increased insurance premiums estimates show fake slip and falls and other types of insurance fraud cost families about $950 a year.

"This is just anybody. With the way the economy is nowadays people who wouldn't usually do this type of thing see a quick opportunity to make some money. It could be a neighbor. It could be a neighbor of a neighbor," said Sakalares.

North Dakota insurance investigators say casualty claims, like fake slip and falls, now account for 5% of the fraud cases they look at.

In Minnesota the Fraud Prevention Specialists with the Department of Commerce looked at 61 suspicious cases just since June 2009.

For ways on spotting insurance fraud and reporting it, the Minnesota Department of Commerce Insurance Fraud Prevention Decision has provided a special website.  You can also call their investigation tip line at 1-888-FRAUDMN.

The North Dakota Insurance Department has it's own fraud website.  It's fraud reporting line is 1-800-247-0560. 

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