Dozens arrested in statewide insurance scam involving U-Hauls

Credit: Tim Boyle

Credit: Tim Boyle

More than three dozen people across the state have been arrested for fraud over the past two years for their involvement in an insurance scam officials say has become increasingly popular.

Forty-three people have been arrested for allegedly staging U-Haul truck accidents to collect insurance money, and the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner said more arrests are expected in the next several weeks. Those 43 offenders have managed to bilk insurance companies out of more than $30,000, only to pay back nearly $75,000 in conviction costs to the insurance companies and the courts.

Glenn Allen, public affairs officer for the Office of Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner, said the scam typically works like this: a suspect or a group of suspects rents a U-Haul truck and purchases insurance coverage for it before driving it to a predetermined location, where another suspect who is also involved in the scheme will be waiting in his or her own vehicle. That second suspect will then crash into the U-Haul, and the U-Haul driver will claim fault for the accident. Often, one or both vehicles will have passengers who will claim injuries. If the scheme succeeds, the suspects get an insurance payout.

Jeff Lockridge, a spokesman for U-Haul, said this kind of scam is nothing new for the company. U-Haul’s investigations unit, he said, is constantly working with law enforcement to battle fraud.

Even though a significant number of people have been involved in the insurance scams, Allen said he wouldn’t call the fraudulent claims a “ring,” exactly.

“When you’ve got a ring, you have a group of people who are consistently planning these types of accidents more than once. Most of these folks, this is their first time being part of it,” Allen said.

He said most offenders are trying to take advantage of what he calls a “word-of-mouth scheme,” one that’s spread informally without large-scale organization.

“Somebody told them they could easily be part of this and make some quick money off of it,” Allen said.

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The largest single fraudulent payout so far has been for $6,653, but as the scam becomes more popular, insurance companies are becoming more wary. Allen said accidents involving U-Haul vehicles have come under heavy scrutiny recently.

And Lockridge said U-Haul remains ever-vigilant. “U-Haul pursues recourse against individuals who involve our equipment in these scams and other nefarious activities,” Lockridge said. “We do this on behalf of the millions of honest customers our company serves each year to keep costs low and to make communities safer.”

The scam appears to be most popular in Macon. Of the 43 people arrested, more than a third — 15 people — are Macon residents. Twelve are from Atlanta, and seven are from Newnan. Other cities include Savannah, Augusta, Fairburn, Byron, Riverdale, Jonesboro, Fort Valley and Hephzibah.

Twenty-six people have already been convicted, with penalties ranging from one to 30 years’ probation. Two offenders have been handed prison sentences — one year and six months, respectively.