You don’t find Florida’s consumer advocates and Florida’s insurance companies holding hands very often, but they have become best buddies in the fight to end the state’s reputation as the national center of auto insurance fraud.
According to the insurance industry, Tampa, Miami and Orlando are three of four leading cities for fraud, after New York. The industry further estimates that auto insurance fraud in Florida is a $1 billion business that adds roughly $100 to the premium of a family with two cars. Even if the industry’s figures aren’t precise, Florida Consumer Action Network Director Bill Newton has it right when he says, “If we can control fraud, everybody benefits.”
Florida is vulnerable to such fraud because of the state’s no-fault auto insurance law, passed nearly four decades ago. The goal was admirable: to settle claims from minor crashes out of court. Scammers, though, game the system by staging accidents, recruiting “victims” who get phony treatment at bogus clinics. Auto fraud is not a new issue for the Legislature, but the recent surge in no-fault claims – an estimated 46 percent increase between 2008 and 2010 – prompted creation of the Sunshine Alliance to Erase Fraud
A comprehensive anti-fraud bill is being drafted, with the sponsors to be Sen. Ellen Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton. The main provisions will include a requirement that police take names of all passengers in a crash – to determine who was truly injured – a warning on applications for clinics’ licenses that fraud is a crime, and the ability of insurers to interview, under oath, all claimants from a crash . The bill should not be confused with House Bill 967, which aims to reduce attorneys’ fees in no-fault cases.
Prosecutors also can play a role. When Miami-Dade County State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle assigned one prosecutor strictly to auto fraud, industry analysts believe, scam operations shifted to Tampa. The goal, though, is not just to keep scammers on the run but to put them out of business. Florida is also home to plenty of Medicare and Medicaid scams, but the state needs to work with the federal government in cracking those rings. With auto fraud, Florida is in the driver’s seat.
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