Accident insurance scams on the rise in Houston

May 2, 2011 3:38:25 PM PDT
An old insurance scam is making it way around our area and your car may be the next target. It's called a "swoop and stop," and the accident can cost your insurance company tens of thousands of dollars.

The problem is getting so bad Crime Stoppers is getting involved.

Investigators say the accidents are becoming more popular and they warn motorists to be careful on the road.

As an auto body repairman, Ron Harvey sees the damage caused by accidents all the time.

"This car right now, the estimate is sitting at $10,000," he said. "And it is going to go up and it is going to go up and it will probably be another $2,000."

While that car was not involved in a swoop and stop crash, Harvey says he is seeing lots of cars that appear to have been caught up in that form of insurance fraud.

"We are seeing more and more of that where people come in and they have been put in an awkward situation and someone came out of nowhere," he said.

The problem is growing so much in our area that Houston ranks fourth in the nation for staged car accidents, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

"Normally these vehicles are newer model vehicles occupied by sometimes middle-aged or elderly people," explained Louis Campbell with the National Insurance Crime Bureau. "[Offenders] slam on the brakes and cause them to rear end them."

Campbell investigates staged accidents in Harris County. He says drivers can do more to avoid the scam than just give the guy ahead of them more room.

"They should look out for vehicles that are mostly occupied by three or four people," he said. "The vehicles that do swoop and stop accidents are older model vehicles."

Officials with Crime Stoppers say Patrick Wayne Bronnon is wanted on four felony counts of insurance fraud for staging accidents.

"With insurance fraud, it is not only a property or monitory harm," Crime Stoppers spokesperson Katherine Cabaniss said. "Insurance fraud and staged accidents can result in physical injuries to innocent by standers."

The cost to fix cars involved in these kinds of collisions can run in the tens of thousands of dollars, besides having to pay your deductible. Your insurance rate goes up as well.

Crime Stoppers is offering a reward for Patrick Bronnon. They will pay up to $5,000 for information leading to his arrest. If you have information, call 713-222-TIPS.

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