The shock of getting into a traffic accident, even a minor one, can leave a driver feeling dazed and confused, but it pays to keep your wits about you at all times. Steven Rutzebeck, director of GEICO’s Special Investigations Unit, explains how to foil potential fraudsters in the moments immediately after a car crash. Having dealt with insurance fraud throughout his career, Rutzebeck knows exactly what to look for.
GEICO More (GM): As you know, traffic accidents do happen and sometimes it’s tempting to give the other driver the benefit of the doubt. But is it ever smart to wash your hands of it and just walk away from a car crash, even a minor fender bender?
Steven Rutzebeck (SR): Not a good idea. At the scene of an accident, you need to get a clear picture of what actually happened. Use your cellphone to take photos of the damaged vehicles, license plates, the people involved, even their driver’s license, if possible. A police officer also serves as an impartial observer of the condition of the vehicles and their occupants, so you have nothing to worry about if a problem presents itself later (if the other party changes their story, for example, and all of a sudden it becomes your fault).
GM: In movies and on TV, we often see depictions of a fraudulent claimant hobbling into court on crutches or in a wheelchair, wearing bandages and a neck brace. But does that stuff really happen?
SR: You’d be surprised by what some people try to get away with. But if there’s very minor damage to the vehicle and all the occupants appear to be injured, and to an extent that doesn’t correlate to the amount of trauma created by the impact, you can be sure the injuries either do not exist or are being enhanced.
GM: Why do they go to such ridiculous lengths?
SR: These farces are often financially motivated. If someone’s bent on staging an accident and wants to incorporate an innocent party, they usually look for high-end vehicles; they also target elderly drivers. But with a typical fender bender, some people see an opportunity to make money out of it.
GM: In a courtroom, the judge considers many factors to determine who’s telling the truth. With insurance fraud, how can you tell when someone’s fibbing?
SR: As we like to say, “The truth never changes.” If you’re being truthful, minor aspects of the story might change slightly over time, but the basic concept will always stay the same because it’s true and you remember it. When people are telling falsehoods, it’s hard for them to keep all the particulars in line and remember what they’ve said.
If you have any questions about your GEICO auto insurance, please call 1-800-841-0728 or visit geico.com. Go straight to the GEICO Claims Center if you’ve been in a fender bender or just want to know more about the claims process.
By David Wright