With economy tanking, some say insurance fraud is on the rise

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by By Ron Trevino / 11 News

khou.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:17 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 26 at 12:30 PM

HOUSTON - By some estimates, insurance fraud costs $85 billion a year nationwide.

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But with the economy tanking, that kind of fraud may be on the rise.

Investigators at the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office handle hundreds of arson car fires every year.

"They see it as a quick and easy solution to getting out of this vehicle note or this problem," Capt. Lonnie Blevins said.

But these days, the motives may be changing.

"To where an individual may have burned his car in the past because he wanted a new one, an individual may burn it now because they can no longer afford it," Blevins said.

The Houston area hasn't seen it yet, but suspicious car fires are on the rise in other cities.

In Dallas, suspected auto insurance fraud is up by around 12 percent this year.

But it's not just cars that are going up in smoke.

Insurance companies are bracing for more suspicious house fires from those who can no longer afford their mortgage payments.

Companies that insure businesses are also seeing more claims with "suspicious injuries."

"It's not unusual when the economy is down, claims go up. I found a piece of glass in my drink. I slipped in your restroom," Nationwide Insurance agent Jim Murray said.

That forces insurance companies to hire guys like Steve Bain of Sugar Land.

Bain is an attorney who specializes in insurance fraud.

"The bad economy has actually been really good for my practice," Bain said.

His job is to get to the bottom of the suspicious claims. He says the recession is causing people who are normally law-abiding to commit crimes.

"They're sorry for it and remorseful, and they're crying to you. It's kinda hard not to feel sympathetic, but at the same time, it's criminal. Or it can be," Bain said.

And there's another problem, too.

Every day on Houston's roadways, people fake injuries.

Say you're in an accident, but you're not hurt.

But then an unscrupulous lawyer or doctor shows up.

"They come onto a scene and will solicit someone and say, ' Listen, now that you've been involved in an accident, I can help get you some money.' I think there's a lot of good Houstonians who would say no to that, but again, when the economy is bad " Bain said.

And with the effect that has on insurance premiums, we all get burned in the end.

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