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staged car accidents

The swoop and squat. The side swipe. The wave in. These are just a few types of staged car accidents designed to defraud you and your insurer. We'll break down how these scams work so you can spot and avoid them on the road.

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Car insurance fraud

Car insurance fraud occurs when someone deceives a car insurance company for financial gain. Staged accidents are an example.

If you're an Esurance customer and you suspect you're the victim of car insurance fraud, send an email to fraud@esurance.com.

5 types of staged car accidents

For most drivers, avoiding car accidents is an understandably high priority. For scammers, on the other hand, accidents can be something they stage intentionally.

These staged car accidents are serious and criminal (on the scammers' parts). To avoid being duped, understand these common types of staged car accidents:

The swoop and squat

Illustration of the swoop and squat

This occurs when 2 or 3 vehicles work together to cause an accident.

You're driving along when a car (the squatter) pulls in front of you. A few seconds later, another car (the swooper) cuts off the car in front of you, forcing it to suddenly brake. (In some cases, another vehicle may drive alongside you, boxing you in.) Caught off guard, you rear-end the vehicle in front of you. The car that caused the accident slips away, leaving you "responsible" for the accident.

The panic stop

Illustration of the panic stop

The panic stop resembles the swoop and squat, with one key difference: the criminal car is loaded with passengers. As in the previous scenario, the car pulls in front of you and a partner in crime is watching your every move, waiting for that split second when you take your eyes off the road. And then, bam! The car in front slams on the brakes (often with purposely knocked-out brake lights). And because you're distracted, you don't react in time to avoid the collision.

The start and stop

Illustration of the start and stop

This one generally occurs in heavy traffic. Let's say you're stuck in gridlock when the driver in front of you begins to move forward. You think traffic is finally moving, so you follow, but suddenly the car in front of you slams the brakes before you can do the same.

The wave in

Illustration of the wave in

You're driving in heavy traffic and you want to switch lanes. A seemingly kind-hearted driver (Bad Samaritan) waves you in, but as you maneuver into the lane, the driver suddenly accelerates, running into your car. When the police arrive, the driver claims that you were never waved in — making it look like you were being careless.

The sideswipe

Illustration of the sideswipe

The sideswipe occurs at intersections with 2 left-turn lanes. Maybe you accidentally drift a bit into the other lane, so the scammer sideswipes you, claiming it was your fault. Or the scammer drifts a bit into your lane and sideswipes you. When the police arrive, it's one driver's word against the other's. (In some cases, false witnesses could be working in concert with the scammers to place the blame on you.)

Car insurance scam warning signs

Accidents can happen in the blink of an eye, and it's often hard to know whether they're staged or real, especially at the scene. But if you see these 3 warning signs, something fishy could be going on:

  • A stranger, acting as a Good Samaritan, will serendipitously appear at the accident scene and offer to help by referring you to a good doctor, lawyer, or repair shop. (If it seems too good to be true…)
  • The other party's physician, or a physician referred to you by someone else, insists that you file a personal injury claim even though you aren't hurt.
  • Tow trucks magically arrive on the scene, though no one called them. Watch out here: these tow trucks could inflate the bill and might be working with an organized fraud ring.

Esurance takes car insurance fraud seriously

If you get in an accident that resembles one of the scenarios above, follow the post-accident process as you would after any car accident. The authorities and your car insurance company will investigate for possible fraud so you don't have to.

Staged car accidents, aside from being financially expensive for insurers and consumers, can cause real damage and physical injuries. To help keep everyone safe, Esurance's team of professionals — the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) — works diligently to investigate any suspicious behavior.

And you can do your part to help, too. If you think you've witnessed or experienced a fraudulent accident, email us at fraud@esurance.com.

Related links

Car insurance fraud 101
Read the basics on car insurance fraud.

Watch videos of staged car accidents
The National Insurance Crime Bureau explains staged accidents in these videos.

Protecting yourself from insurance fraud
Being proactive can help you avoid being a victim of a car insurance fraud scam.