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County takes aim at insurance fraudsters

COAST CIITES — “Don’t do it. Don’t tolerate it. Report it,” is the slogan used by the San Diego County District Attorney’s office in a new movie ad campaign that aims to prevent people from committing insurance fraud, which costs the state’s consumers an estimated $15 billion annually.
That figure amounts to a hidden tax of about $700 per family each year on the price of goods and services, according to San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie M. Dumanis.
“During difficult economic times, insurance fraud has been shown to increase,” Dumanis said.
The 15-second ads are showing on more than 340 movie screens in theaters across the county, and began Oct. 22 and are running through Dec. 3.
Approximately 37,000 people each day are expected to view the message, she said.
Sarah Ingersoll, an artist and sculptor, was at UltraStar La Costa 6 in Carlsbad on Nov. 8, and said she watches movies at the theater all the time.
She said that she must have missed seeing the DA’s fraud warning ad after the campaign was explained to her.
She said that seeing a commercial of a person actually committing insurance fraud would be something that she might have remembered.
For an automobile insurance fraud ad, Ingersoll said that an ad that shows a person driving, such as “a face looking into the rearview mirror like they’re planning something” would have more of an impact than an ad of someone in a jumpsuit.
“It’s all about visual when you’re in the theater,” she said.
But the brief movie ads are the latest public awareness campaign in a series of grant-funded anti-fraud messages that have made their way around the county with the same images through various media since the first campaign launched October 2008.
With the initial campaign, the DA’s office made and delivered pamphlets to local businesses that defined workers’ compensation fraud, how to report it and what the penalties are.
Employees who lie to get workers’ compensation benefits are subject to a felony charge for “applicant fraud,” and can face up to five years in prison and a $150,000 fine, according to the pamphlet.
Provider fraud, which is false billing by a medical service, is also a felony and another example of what the brochure described.
The next campaign was in the form of freeway billboards that were in both English and Spanish and remained up for one month in January 2009, according to said San Diego County Deputy District Attorney Dominic Dugo.
One of the billboards featured a man working with a hammer with words that read: “Does Your Employer Have Workers’ Comp? It’s the Law!”
The other billboard was a picture of a man behind bars with a warning against workers’ comp fraud.
Rebecca Thomas, of Carlsbad, was also at the UltraStar on Nov. 8, and after several minutes of thinking about the movie previews, she did remember seeing an ad that had a man in handcuffs.
“It was super fast,” she said. “I don’t know what it was about.”
The ads shown on theaters scattered across the county depict the same slogan and images as the billboards.
Dugo said that anti-fraud posters were also distributed in 2009 for employers to hang in the workplace.
“When there’s an economic downturn, people that tend to be financially stressed may commit fraud,” Dugo said. “We’re seeing an explosion in real estate and insurance fraud.”
Dugo said the anti-fraud messages are geared toward the people who may commit insurance fraud for the very first time due to financial stress.
Some examples of insurance fraud include employees faking injuries or employers denying claims, he said.
“For auto insurance, it’s typically someone who sells their vehicle to (someone in) Mexico and reports it stolen to the insurance company,” he said.
Another way people commit automobile insurance fraud is when they let their car insurance policy lapse.
Dugo said that for the past one to two years there has been an increase in this particular crime, and that it has become quite common.
“In California, if you drive a car you are required by law to have car insurance,” he said.
But people are letting their policy lapse in order to save money, yet they continue to drive, he said.
The fraud occurs when an uninsured vehicle is stolen or damaged, such as in an accident, and the owner then buys a new policy and lies about the date of the theft or damage and makes a claim, he said.
An entire division of the district attorney’s office is dedicated to reducing insurance fraud, which includes working with the California Department of Insurance on public awareness, deterring potential defrauders, prosecuting and proactively investigating insurance fraud.
The grant-funded movie ads were funded by the California Workers’ Compensation Fraud Assessment Commission and the California Department of insurance.
To view the ads, follow this link:
To report insurance fraud or workers’ compensation fraud, or for any questions about suspected fraud, the public can call the Insurance Fraud Division of the DA’s office at (800) 315-7672.