Insurance fraud is any act committed with the intent to fraudulently obtain payment from an insurer.
Insurance fraud has existed ever since the beginning of insurance as a commercial enterprise. Fraudulent claims account for a significant portion of all claims received by insurers, and cost billions of dollars annually. Types of insurance fraud are very diverse, and occur in all areas of insurance. Insurance crimes also range in severity, from slightly exaggerating claims to deliberately causing accidents or damage. Fraudulent activities also affect the lives of innocent people, both directly through accidental or purposeful injury or damage, and indirectly as these crimes cause insurance premiums to be higher. Insurance fraud poses a very significant problem, and governments and other organizations are making efforts to deter such activities.
The “chief motive in all insurance crimes is financial profit.” Insurance contracts provide fraudsters with opportunities for exploitation. One reason that this opportunity arises is in the case of over-insurance, when the amount insured is greater than the actual value of the property insured. This condition can be very difficult to avoid, especially since an insurance provider might sometimes encourage it in order to obtain greater profits. This allows fraudsters to make profits by destroying their property because the payment they receive from their insurers is of greater value than the property they destroy.
Insurance companies are also susceptible to fraud because false insurance claims can be made to appear like ordinary claims. This allows fraudsters to file claims for damages that never occurred, and so obtain payment with little or no initial cost.
Losses Due to Insurance Fraud:
It is virtually impossible to determine an exact value for the amount of money stolen through insurance fraud. Insurance fraud is designed to be undetectable, unlike visible crimes such as robbery or murder. As such, the number of cases of insurance fraud that are detected is much lower than the number of acts that are actually committed. The best that can be done is to provide an estimate for the losses that insurers suffer due to insurance fraud. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that in 2006 a total of about $80 billion was lost in the United States due to insurance fraud. According to estimates by the Insurance Information Institute, insurance fraud accounts for 10%, or about $30 billion, of losses in the property and casualty insurance industries in the United States. The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association estimates that 3% of the health care industry’s expenditures in the United States are due to fraudulent activities, amounting to a cost of about $51 billion. Other estimates attribute as much as 10% of the total healthcare spending in the United States to fraud—about $115 billion annually. In the United Kingdom, the Insurance Fraud Bureau estimates that the loss due to insurance fraud in the United Kingdom is about £1.5 billion ($3.08 billion), causing a 5% increase in insurance premiums. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that personal injury fraud in Canada costs about C$500 million (497.5 million USD) annually.
Hard vs. Soft Fraud:
Insurance fraud can be classified as either hard fraud or soft fraud.
Hard fraud occurs when someone deliberately plans or invents a loss, such as a collision, auto theft, or fire that is covered by their insurance policy in order to receive payment for damages. Criminal rings are sometimes involved in hard fraud schemes that can steal millions of dollars.
Soft fraud, which is far more common than hard fraud, is sometimes also referred to as opportunistic fraud. This type of fraud consists of policyholders exaggerating otherwise legitimate claims. For example, when involved in a collision an insured person might claim more damage than was really done to his or her car. Soft fraud can also occur when, while obtaining a new insurance policy, an individual misreports previous or existing conditions in order to obtain a lower premium on their insurance policy.
Types of Insurance Fraud:
The types of insurance fraud that exist are as diverse as the types of insurance policies that are available. Some of the major areas in which insurance fraud occurs are in the life, health care, automobile, and property insurance industries.
An example of life insurance fraud is the John Darwin disappearance case, an ongoing investigation into the faked death of British former teacher and prison officer John Darwin, who turned up alive in December 2007, five years after he was thought to have died in a canoeing accident. Darwin was reported as "missing" after failing to report to work following a canoeing trip on March 21, 2002. He reappeared on December 1, 2007, claiming to have no memory of the past five years.
Health Care Insurance:
According to Roger Feldman, Blue Cross Professor of Health Insurance at the University of Minnesota, one of the main reasons that medical fraud is such a prevalent practice is that nearly all of the parties involved find it favorable in some way. Many physicians see it as necessary to provide quality care for their patients. Many patients, although disapproving of the ideal of fraud, are sometimes more willing to accept it when it affects their own medical care. Program administrators are often lenient on the issue of insurance fraud, as they want to maximize the services of their providers.
The most common perpetrators of healthcare insurance fraud are health care providers. One reason for this, according to David Hyman, a Professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, is that the historically prevailing attitude in the medical profession is one of “fidelity to patients”. This incentive can lead to fraudulent practices such as billing insurers for treatments that are not covered by the patient’s insurance policy. To do this, physicians often bill for a different service, which is covered by the policy, than that which was rendered.
Another motivation for insurance fraud in the healthcare industry, just as in all other types of insurance fraud, is a desire for financial gain. Public healthcare programs such as Medicare and Medicaid are especially conducive to fraudulent activities, as they are often run on a fee-for-service structure. Physicians use several fraudulent techniques to achieve this end. These can include “up-coding” or “upgrading,” which involve billing for more expensive treatments than those actually provided; providing and subsequently billing for treatments that are not medically necessary; scheduling extra visits for patients; referring patients to another physician when no further treatment is actually necessary; and “ganging,” or billing for services to family members or other individuals who are accompanying the patient but who did not personally receive any services.
The Insurance Research Council estimated that in 1996, 21 to 36 percent of auto-insurance claims contained elements of suspected fraud. There is a wide variety of schemes used to defraud automobile insurance providers. These ploys can differ greatly in complexity and severity. Richard A. Derrig, vice president of research for the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts, lists several ways that auto-insurance fraud can occur. Examples of soft auto-insurance fraud can include filing more than one claim for a single injury, filing claims for injuries not related to an automobile accident, misreporting wage losses due to injuries, or reporting higher costs for car repairs than those that were actually paid. Hard auto-insurance fraud can include activities such as staging automobile collisions, filing claims when the claimant was not actually involved in the accident, submitting claims for medical treatments that were not received, or inventing injuries.
Another example is that a person may illegally register their car to a location that would net them cheaper insurance rates than where they actually live, sometimes called "rate evasion". For example, some drivers in Brooklyn drive with Pennsylvania license plates because registering their car in a rural part of Pennsylvania will cost a lot less than registering it in Brooklyn. Hard fraud can also occur when claimants falsely report their vehicle as stolen. Soft fraud accounts for the majority of fraudulent auto-insurance claims.
Organized crime rings can also be involved in auto-insurance fraud, sometimes carrying out schemes that are very complex. An example of one such ploy is given by Ken Dornstein, author of Accidentally, on Purpose: The Making of a Personal Injury Underworld in America. In this scheme, known as a “swoop-and-squat,” one or more drivers in “swoop” cars force an unsuspecting driver into position behind a “squat” car. This squat car, which is usually filled with several passengers, then slows abruptly, forcing the driver of the chosen car to collide with the squat car. The passengers in the squat car then file a claim with the other driver’s insurance company. This claim often includes bills for medical treatments that were not necessary or not received.
Fraudulent activities against property insurance providers consist of the destruction of property in order to receive insurance payments for it. Possible motivations for this can include obtaining payment that is worth more than the value of the property destroyed, or to destroy and subsequently receive payment for goods that could not otherwise be sold. According to Alfred Manes, the majority of property insurance crimes involve arson. One reason for this is that any evidence that a fire was started by arson is often destroyed by the fire itself. According to the United States Fire Administration, in the United States there were approximately 31,000 fires caused by arson in 2006, resulting in losses of $755 million.
Detecting Insurance Fraud:
The detection of insurance fraud generally occurs in two steps. The first step is to identify suspicious claims that have a higher possibility of being fraudulent. This can be done by computerized statistical analysis or by referrals from claims adjusters or insurance agents. The next step is to refer these claims to investigators for further analysis.
Due to the sheer number of claims submitted each day, it would be far too expensive for insurance companies to have employees check each claim for symptoms of fraud. Instead, many companies use computers and statistical analysis to identify suspicious claims for further investigation. There are two main types of statistical analysis tools used: supervised and unsupervised. In both cases, suspicious claims are identified by comparing data about the claim to expected values. The main difference between the two methods is how the expected values are derived.
In a supervised method, expected values are obtained by analyzing records of both fraudulent and non-fraudulent claims. According to Richard J. Bolton and David B. Hand, both of Imperial College in London, this method has some drawbacks as it requires absolutely certainty that those claims analyzed are actually either fraudulent or non-fraudulent, and because it can only be used to detect types of fraud that have been committed and identified before.
Unsupervised methods of statistical detection, on the other hand, involve detecting claims that are abnormal. Both claims adjusters and computers can also be trained to identify “red flags,” or symptoms that in the past have often been associated with fraudulent claims. Statistical detection does not prove that claims are fraudulent; it merely identifies suspicious claims that need to be investigated further.
Fraudulent claims can be one of two types. They can be otherwise legitimate claims that are exaggerated or “built up,” or they can be false claims in which the damages claimed never actually occurred. Once a built up claim is identified, insurance companies usually try to negotiate the claim down to the appropriate amount. Suspicious claims can also be submitted to “special investigative units”, or SIUs, for further investigation. These units generally consist of experienced claims adjusters with special training in investigating fraudulent claims. These investigators look for certain symptoms associated with fraudulent claims, or otherwise look for evidence of falsification of some kind. This evidence can then be used to deny payment of the claims or to prosecute fraudsters if the violation is serious enough.
National and local governments, especially in the last half of the twentieth century, have recognized insurance fraud as a serious crime, and have made efforts to punish and prevent this practice. Some major developments are listed below:
Following are some examples of real instances of insurance fraud that occurred in recent years:
According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, a former business executive from Chicago resorted to insurance fraud to pay off his debt of over $672,000. He set fire to his own home in order to collect insurance money on it. In order to disguise this act of arson, he trapped his ninety year old mother in the basement while the house was burning so that the fire would appear to be a suicide. He received about $600,000 in insurance money, but was eventually convicted on several charges and sentenced to 190 years in federal prison.