Scams suddenly real when guy fakes tumble during bus ride

Imagine coming home from a long day at work. You climb on a full bus. Soon the vehicle suddenly screeches to a halt. An elderly man outside falls onto the pavement. The bus hit him at a stop light, he screams in seeming pain. The passengers have to clear out, and you’re still a mile from home.

You hear ambulance sirens rushing to the scene. Yet nobody’s fooled. Children and adult passengers are calling out this fraudster. They’re yelling things like, “He just wants to get money!”

You remember sitting in the front of the bus, and it never touched the man … at all. No bump, no thump.

If you’re wondering if that insurance grab happened … it did … to me.

I’m an insurance-fraud researcher with the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. I read about and see videos of fraudsters faking slip and falls all the time. They seemed like a fantasy until I saw this guy’s scam first-hand.

Slip-and-fall cons may steal billions of dollars a year. Honest businesses are sued. They pay in higher premiums. We pay in higher prices at the cash register.

Some fraudsters place liquid detergent or other slippery stuff on supermarket floors. They sit down on the floor and scream they slipped on the mess. They’re blithely unaware that security cams record every false move.

Selena Edwards of California claimed a scalding cup of hot coffee with a loose lid slipped off and burned her hand at a McDonald’s drive-thru. But she’d used a photo of someone else’s burned hand. And her medical records also were forged. Edwards was convicted.

Some consumers even joke about it on social media.

Slip-and-falls are a quick way to make big bucks, people often yack. Search the hash tag #bouttoslip on Twitter. You’ll see youngsters joking about slipping and falling to claim insurance money. This kind of peer-to-peer chatter can egg others to fake a money-grabbing slips.

Or check out the #insurancefraud hash tags on Vine and Instagram. Plenty of quick videos of young people joking how to pay college tuition by scamming insurers with bogus tumbles.

My experience on the bus plus my research with the Coalition made one thing clear: Slip-and-falls are a big waste for everyone. This is especially true of scammers who end up with permanent criminal records after their cons slipped, fell and broke.



California became the fourth state to enact a life-saving law criminalizing airbag scams this year in a spreading trend, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud announced.

Gov. Jerry Brown signed the nation’s most-expansive airbag bill into law this week. The measure makes it a specific crime to market knockoff airbags, and install counterfeit airbags, safety belts or other parts of a vehicle’s safety system.

“Deflating airbag scams is a public-safety priority. Installing knockoff airbags is a virulent insurance scam. It jeopardizes the lives of motorists who lose this vital protection in crashes. We applaud Gov. Brown for this forward-reaching vision,” said Howard Goldblatt, director of government affairs for the Coalition.

California taps a national trend. Washington, Maryland and South Carolina booked airbag-fraud laws earlier this year. Fully 14 states have enacted similar airbag laws in recent years. They generally make marketing and installing counterfeit bags in vehicles a specific crime.

The Coalition and Honda North America are partnering in lobbying statehouses for the new laws.

California goes beyond solely airbag scams. Its new law covers installing knockoff parts involving the entire safety system.

Pennsylvania is considering an airbag-specific law. The outlook for enactment is promising. The measure has cleared the state House, and the Senate is discussing passage.

“Ethically challenged repair shops pocket a large and illegal profit. The scam defrauds consumers and insurer, helping keep premiums higher for honest drivers in Pennsylvania,” Goldblatt wrote state Senate majority leader Jake Corman this week in urging swift passage.

Insurance scam: Dishonest body shops can make large profits by installing knockoff airbags in vehicle repairs. They can easily buy knockoffs on the black market or mainstream sites such as eBay or Craigslist. Counterfeits cost just a few dollars, while shady body shops charge auto insurers $1,000 or more for legitimate manufacturer originals.

Safety jeopardized: Motorists face a serious safety peril. The knockoffs generally won’t open properly in a crash. Drivers have died and been injured in crashes involving non-functioning counterfeits or fraudulently removed airbags. Knockoffs also spewed shrapnel at crash dummies in federal tests.

Flood U.S. market: A Chinese national named Dai Zhensong tried to flood the U.S. with fake airbags made in his factory in China. They looked like legitimate models from mainstream carmakers.

Thousands of airbags made it to the U.S. Many could’ve been installed on vehicles. Zhensong’s network was dismantled and he received 37 months in federal prison.

“Airbags protect us from serious injuries or worse. Motorists rightfully expect airbags will protect us in crashes. Bogus airbags jeopardize that expectation,” Goldblatt said.