WASHINGTON--Alice Ross, an engaging 71-year-old grandmother, died when her Buick was rammed by a car packed with gang members allegedly staging a crash in Brooklyn to make fake injury claims against insurance companies.

Increasingly, violent crashes staged by large gangs are among the widespread swindles that state insurance fraud bureaus now confront.

Still, these fraud-fighting agencies earned nearly a third more criminal convictions from 2001 through 2002 despite often thinly stretched budgets and tougher fraud schemes, says a new study by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.   

The coalition's study of 43 fraud bureaus reveals that in 2002:

  • criminal fraud convictions rose 31 percent (a record 2,535 total);
  • fraud bureaus referred 14 percent more cases for prosecution (nearly 99,000 total);
  • fraud investigations spiked nearly 18 percent (a record 33,000 total).

Several of the most populous states -- California, Florida, New York and New Jersey -- account for most of the crime-fighting gains. Aggressive crackdowns against this $80-billion annual crime in those states now are yielding significant results.
Tempering the generally upbeat trend: Budgets for fraud fighting dropped or stayed flat in 14 states. In fact, nine of 10 fraud bureaus say lack of resources -- staff, money and computers -- is their biggest problem.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

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