Two apparent staged car wreck rings in the Oklahoma City area could echo a growing national trend in insurance fraud, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. The bureau warned this month that schemes involving staged wrecks and false insurance claims are on the rise, pointing to investigations in California, New York and Florida. Insurance crime bureau Special Agent Mark Wenthold in Oklahoma City said local insurance fraud investigators have presented evidence to prosecutors for possible charges in two cases here. Staged accidents can involve only the people in on the scheme or target innocent victims, Wenthold said. Potential fraudsters typically claim injuries from the wreck to drive up the insurance windfall. One of the rings under recent investigation in Oklahoma City involved the same people and the same cars over and over again, Wenthold said. In the other, a group of people who Wenthold said travel the country to perpetrate the scheme would rent a U-Haul truck and smash it into a large sport utility vehicle, which they would later claim was full of people injured in the collision. The break in that case came during a winter ice storm, Wenthold said. A man who was staying at his business because his power was out at home saw suspicious activity near a parking lot at night. "He watches them, and they park the Suburban at a stop sign and let a bunch of kids out,” Wenthold said. "And as he watches, they ram the U-Haul into the Suburban. They look at the damage and decide it wasn’t enough, then they ram it again.” The bureau has videos on its website, www.nicb.org, showing common types of crashes. Oklahoma City police Master Sgt. Gary Knight said officers typically can make a report on any crash, even if injury isn’t involved. Knight and Wenthold said having police investigate can discourage fraudsters and hamper their ability to make false claims.
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HOW TO HELPAuthorities ask anyone with information about staged accidents or insurance fraud to call the NICB at (800) 835-6422, go to the NICB website at www.nicb.org or text "fraud” and the information to TIP411 on a cell phone. Tipsters may remain anonymous.