Insurance Fraud Has Placed Attorneys Under Siege
Insurance Fraud Has Placed Attorneys Under Siege
By Lawrence Wolf, Esquire
Attorneys have become the targets of police stings as the result of law enforcement crackdown on insurance fraud. Law enforcement is reacting to an outcry of employers and citizens who have been hit in the pocketbook by insurance fraud. California law now broadly defines fraudulent activity, expanding an attorneys vulnerability to prosecution. Since the laws enactment, extensive funds to combat fraud have now become available. The result is that attorneys are under siege.
Weve stepped up stings and fraud investigation considerably, reports Dennis Zine, Traffic Enforcement Supervisor with the Los Angeles Police Department. Our investigations are starting to target teams of lawyers, doctors and front men who operate fraud mills. Unfortunately, there is no way for lawyers to spot signs of a sting operation.
You Can Protect Yourself. Not all attorneys caught by a police sting have participated in fraud willingly or knowingly. It is vital to take precautions not to become the target of these crackdowns. First, be aware of a fraudulent or staged accident that are considered as red flags by the police. (See Signs of a Staged Accident or Police Sting.)
I also recommend that if you do suspect fraud, you take the following precautions to protect yourself from prosecution:
- Decline a case you suspect is fraudulent and write a detailed memorandum including your questions and suspicions.
- Take detailed, copious notes of your interactions. Include taped discussions with witnesses or other parties involved in the case.
- If you have information that proves the case fraudulent, such as knowledge that a second vehicle doesnt exist, you may want, after conferring with your own trained counsel, to report it to the police.
- If you are contacted regarding a case by law enforcement, or if you suspect that you have become a target, immediately contact legal counsel experienced in these matters.
No attorney wants insurance fraud to continue, but being innocent of any conscious wrongdoing is not enough to protect oneself.
Lawrence Wolf is sole practitioner with offices in Century City. A Judge Pro-Tem and successful criminal attorney, Mr. Wolf is a recognized expert on criminal law, insurance fraud, consumer fraud, juvenile justice and drunk driving.
Signs of a Staged Accident or Police Sting
Police who operate insurance fraud stings search for specific signs when attempting to ensnare attorneys and other professionals. Additionally, staged accidents frequently do not appear criminal in any way. Attorneys who miss the less obvious signs may imperil their profession and practice.
The following signs are considered as red flags by police investigators and will trigger further investigation by them. If you encounter these signs, consider the case carefully. You may want to report your case to an insurance fraud hotline after consulting with legal counsel. (See Insurance Fraud Hotlines. On the other side)
- The driver of a vehicle admits to no injury, yet asks to be referred to a doctor.
- A second vehicle involved in the accident does not exist.
- The second vehicle was driven by the clients friend or relative.
- Repeat clients who appear to be accident prone.
- Clients medical claim request is disproportionate to the property damage sustained.
- The client requests an advance on a potential settlement before agreeing to maintain your services. Such clients may approach three or more attorneys with the same request. It is, of course, illegal to pay a third party for a case.
Dont become a victim of a staged accident or the target of a police sting!
Did You Know
A New Alcohol Detection Devise Is Mandated for Repeat Offenders
A new California law targets repeat drunk drivers by requiring installation of an ignition interlock device in their automobiles. This breath analyzer system prevents drivers who have consumed any alcohol from starting their vehicles.
The law, effective July 1, 1993, requires drivers with one or more prior convictions to use the device for up to three years. An estimated 65,000 people yearly will be subject to the law, according to the State Dept. of Motor Vehicles. The cost of leasing the device and enrolling in a required course, called the Ignition Interlock Responsible Driver Program, is $600 to $700 per year.
A difficult to master pre-set code prevents others from starting the car for the driver. And a rolling restart requires motorists to pull over and re-take the test, preventing alcohol intake on the road.
Studies have shown that repeat offenses by convicted drivers can be reduced by up to 65% from use of the ignition detection system. About 20 states now use similar devices.
The program could be used as a creative sentencing alternative when jail time is mandated. Possibly, sentences could be reduced by employing the device, especially for aggravated first time offenders.
Insurance Fraud Hotlines Here are current phone numbers to call should you suspect insurance fraud or abuse:
- Natl. Ins. Crime Bureau Hotline (800) TEL-NICB
- California State Dept. of Ins. Consumer Hotline (800) 927-HELP
- State Fund Fraud Hotline, for workers compensation fraud (800) 683-7283
Remember: Always consult with trained legal counsel first.
Lawyers Must Retain Their Right to Advertise
Lawyers who take advantage of the medias many advertising venues have recently come under fire. Its been argued that advertising on radio, and especially television, places the profession in an unsavory light.
But used properly, media advertising can be valuable to attorneys trying to make themselves available to a wide audience and to potential clients.
I spoke to Jeffrey Berns of Berns & Ghiglia in Canoga Park about their extensive advertising campaigns, their advertising philosophy and their results. For every fifty inquiries Berns & Ghiglia receives from a radio ad, one is secured as a client; yet, during the free consultation, the other 49 callers often receive valuable guidance as they are apprised for their rights.
Berns & Ghaglia and my firm have found radio advertising to be more cost effective than television since it has fewer production requirements. Radio also has prove to reach our target audience in their homes, offices and perfect for Southern California their cars.
The professionalism and honesty with which one advertises is really the issue here. Berns & Ghiglia supports state bill AB208, recently introduced by Assemblyman Paul Horcher (R-Whittier), which targets fraudulent advertising techniques such as: deceptive contingency fee arrangements; claims of immediate cash settlements; guarantee of outcomes; impersonations; dramatizations.
The State Bars Lawyer Advertising Task Force also has issued recommendations to supplement Rules of Professional Conduct 1-400 that bar false, misleading or deceptive ads and those that omit material facts.
By all means, measures such as these are needed to curtail questionable ads. But it makes no sense to assume that there is no value or respectability in any lawyers advertisements. Our firms have value to offer and we believe in the right to let people know we can help them.
With proper guidelines, responsible lawyers should be allowed every opportunity to advertise widely. We should not give in to any attack that compromises that right.
Get your questions answered - call me for your free, 20 min phone consultation (310) 277-1707.