Avoiding Fender Bender Fraud

Cars in a staged fender bender accidentThe 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

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  1. Diane Greene says

    Thank you for the advice about witnessing accidents. It’s so important to have a disinterested party to tell the truth. I once stopped on a green light for a police car running with lights and siren on the cross street. The driver behind me hit me at full speed, totaling my car and putting me in the hospital. Because I was stopped at a green light she said that the accident was my fault. I think that if the police officer hadn’t stopped things would have gotten really ugly on the insurance end. Of course there were many other witnesses but none of them stuck around. This was before I moved to Geico.

  2. Janet Kerzner says

    Sometimes it is hard to stay in a “safe” zone. People do drive differently and not all follow safety rules. The traffic is terrific in Palm Bay, Florida and not every one drives safely or they just don’t know how to drive, especially being a “snow bird” and not knowing where they are going. So they cut in front of you rather quickly and there it goes. You hit from the rear and you are at fault. I take the roads less traveled to stay away from possibilities. It’s nerve racking. One man I spoke with at the post office was ranting about the traffic and said that is why he rides his bicycle. I don’t know if that is safer, but I guess it works for him.

  3. Skylar Mitchell says

    It is so helpful to learn more about what to do in case you get in a fender bender. If I were to get in a small accident, I am not sure that I would know what to do. I think that it is definitely a good idea to document everything you can by taking pictures. Since people try to make things up when it comes to accidents, having the facts is always good. Since these kind of accidents are actually quite common, I want to be sure that my insurance covered these damages, so I will probably check this out soon.

  4. Alex Jennings says

    It’s unfortunate that some people enact fender bender fraud. If I were ever in this situation, I would call a car accident lawyer to help mediate the situation. I wonder how many people have been affected by this fraud.

      • Caroline Miller says

        I was hit by car in a left-turn lane, hitting my brand new Prious. He changed lanes and ran into me. My vehicle took all the damage. I called police to the accident; he wrote up the report. Neither of us were ticketed. When I got home I promptly called Geico to report what happened. The other driver happend to be insured by
        Geico and they reached out to him. After 5 days he called them back and told the story that I ran into him. Because I couldn’t prove any differently, I was stuck with paying the $500 deductible and he got off scott free. I am still mad over this.