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Auto Insurance Fraud: Driving Rates Up In Brooklyn

by Mark G. Peters, Jan 24, 2005
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Also:
Insurance and Its Threats in NYC

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If you drive a car in Brooklyn, chances are you've encountered many headaches during that endless search for a parking spot. What, you might ask, could be worse? How about this: People in Brooklyn pay the highest car insurance rates in the state.

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Someone who lives in Brooklyn and drives a 2004 Chevy Malibu would be charged an average of more than $3,000 for six months of required insurance coverage, while the average cost for the same car in the Bronx is about half that amount.

Why is this so? It is largely due to auto insurance fraud.

"DOC IN THE BOX" INSURANCE FRAUD

Brooklyn's rates are so high because the borough is home to some of the largest and most efficient auto insurance fraud mills in the country. Millions of dollars in false insurance claims are fraudulently submitted and paid each year and, according to a recent study (in pdf format) conducted by the Insurance Research Council, increased claims abuse and fraud were particularly high in Brooklyn in every category.

These criminal enterprises are centered on fake clinics known as "Doc in the Box" operations, which use an intricate system of fake victims who claim false injuries and then, after being "treated" by one of these clinics, fraudulently bill medical and auto insurance companies. Though New York State law requires medical doctors to operate clinics, most of these operations are not under the supervision of a doctor and instead are under the operation of unlicensed management teams. Instead of using the clinics to treat injuries, the Doc in the Box operators are in the business of fabricating and perpetrating insurance fraud.

All of this adds up to astronomical costs for the average Brooklyn driver.

TOO MUCH FOR THE DISTRICT ATTORNEY TO HANDLE?

The Brooklyn District Attorney's office, which is responsible for investigating and prosecuting these local criminals, has not been able to keep up with these vast criminal enterprises in recent years. Recent auto fraud cases - to the extent they have been brought - have dealt only with cases being brought against the low-level "victims" and not the people responsible for running these vast schemes.

These results occasionally produce a good sound bite, but do not decrease fraud levels enough to lower premiums for the average Brooklynite. It is fair to argue that the Brooklyn D.A.'s office is without serious direction when it comes to prosecuting auto insurance fraud successfully, and that it is relying on antiquated investigative techniques.

BETTER ENFORCEMENT TECHNIQUES NEEDED

At the state level, the Attorney General's Auto Insurance Fraud Unit has been quite successful in regard to producing meaningful convictions. Like many other aspects of the Attorney General's office, the Auto Insurance Fraud Unit represents a model that local prosecutors should adopt. Among the reasons for its successes is a real commitment of resources to combat this sophisticated law enforcement problem. This includes assembling a highly professional staff on both the prosecutorial and investigative sides.

The same thing could be happening in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn D.A. should be using techniques such as wiretapping and undercover work to put forward a series of cases that work up the chain of command. Going after the Doc in the Box operations requires long-term commitments of resources from a smart and professional prosecutor's office. The Brooklyn D.A.'s failure to do this is evident in the lack of high-level prosecution - cases that other law enforcement teams, including the Attorney General's, are consistently putting together.

Since many of the auto fraud cases also cross jurisdictional lines, it would make sense to work with other local prosecutors to investigate and prosecute. The D.A. also needs to work together with the State Legislature to propose new, anti-kickback legislation, similar to the type used to fight against Medicaid fraud, that would effectively prohibit the clinics and law firms from paying middlemen who act as conduits between the "victims" and those who are perpetrating and certifying the fraudulent claims. Frankly, there is little public evidence that the Brooklyn D.A. has done this.

The prosecution of violent crimes is obviously an important part of protecting the citizens of Brooklyn, but, as the chief law enforcement officer in the borough, it's up to the D.A. to take on insurance fraud rings in the same aggressive and responsible manner other felonies require.

Mark G. Peters, the former chief of the New York State Attorney General's Public Integrity Unit, is running for Brooklyn District Attorney.


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