Deer season is hunting season for insurance frauders

HARRISBURG — The fall season in Pennsylvania not only brings with it changing foliage and apple cider, but also the increased chances that drivers are more likely to encounter deer.

According to the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority (IFPA), those four-legged creatures are also a convenient excuse for consumers to commit insurance fraud. Some examples of cases from across the Commonwealth range from the commonplace to the bizarre:

– Crash and Buy– A Uniontown woman struck a deer with her vehicle at a time when her vehicle was uninsured and subsequently obtained coverage from the Infinity Insurance Company a few days later, falsely stating that the accident occurred after the coverage was in place.

– Adding to the Damage– A man in Northumberland County, whose vehicle had suffered minor damage when it hit a deer, used a board to heavily damage his vehicle before turning in his claim. The logic? So that his insurance company would declare the vehicle a total loss and provide him with money to buy a new vehicle.

– Avoiding a higher deductible–An Indiana County man filed a claim with State Farm, reporting that he struck a deer and then hit a tree. An investigation showed the damage to the vehicle appeared to have occurred a significant time before the claim, and that the driver stated he had run into a telephone pole two years prior. Had the accident occurred as claimed, it would have been covered under comprehensive coverage, with a $100 deductible. However, since the driver actually struck a pole, the claim would have been processed under collision coverage – with a $1,000 deductible.

– False Reports–A Perry County driver filed a claim with Nationwide for damage done to his truck in a collision with a deer, and received more than $900 from the insurance company for needed repairs. Several days later, the driver filed a second claim, stating that the truck had been repaired and a second accident with a deer had again damaged the vehicle. It was discovered that repairs were never completed after the first accident, and that the claim money had been used for other expenses.

In a highly-publicized case, the owner of a Philadelphia body shop routinely created false accounts of vehicles being damaged by accidents involving deer in order to increase the amounts received for insurance claims. According to investigators, the fraudulent owner even had employees store deer blood, hair and carcasses in the shop’s garage to be used as props in photos that were later submitted with insurance claims.

Insurance fraud is a felony crime that results in increased premiums and other financial issues, said Tom Donahue, IFPA Executive Director and former insurance investigator. Unfortunately, honest consumers and businesses pay the price for a few dishonest fraudsters. What many don’t understand is that when a claim is made, a full investigation goes on behind the scenes to verify its legitimacy. If you break the law, you will be caught and prosecuted, and have a felony crime on your record.

In Pennsylvania, deer migration and mating season runs from October through January, causing a spike in the movement of the population and triggering more deer-vehicle collisions during this period than any other time of year. Increased development and habitat encroachment have added to the issue.

“If the driver swerves to miss a deer and hits a tree, a fence or telephone pole, that accident falls under their collision coverage.” explains Donahue. “The optional comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy covers incidents such as fire, theft, vandalism, flood, hail, falling or flying objects, and damage due to an animal such as a deer. Comprehensive often carries a lower deductible than collision coverage.”

A recent report from an insurance company reveals that drivers in Pennsylvania are more likely to collide with a deer this year, moving the state up from the Number 4 most likely spot to Number 3. According to the insurance company, a Pennsylvania driver has a one in 67 chance of colliding with a deer this year, up from a one in 70 chance last year. Nationally, vehicle-animal collisions kill around 200 motorists each year.

“There are a lot of sources out there that will help drivers exercise caution during deer season on the roads, and what to do if you have an accident involving a deer. From our perspective, drivers need to be both vigilant and honest,” Donahue said.

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The IFPA was created in 1994 by the Pennsylvania General Assembly through Act 166, Pennsylvania?s Insurance Fraud Prevention Act, to arm law enforcement with the resources necessary to fight insurance fraud in the Commonwealth. IASIU, founded in 1984, is an organization dedicated to advancing the efforts of law enforcement and insurance industry fraud investigation professionals in combating insurance fraud. For more information visit www.helpstopfraud.org, and www.iasiu.org.