• WFTV investigates staged car accidents in central Fla.


    CENTRAL FLORIDA - Staged car accidents are a multibillion-dollar a year illegal scheme and Florida leads the nation.

    Orange County investigators said they are overloaded with cases.

    Eyewitness News reporter Myrt Price shows how the scheme can even put you and your family in danger.

    Video of a staged accident was captured during an undercover operation by the Division of Insurance Fraud.

    In Orange County, an average of 11 phony crashes happen every week, officials said.

    But investigators are catching on, and arrests are up 27 percent.

    "We added a second PIP squad, a squad of five detectives just to investigate PIP-related claims," said an official.

    Experts said crashes are staged in a couple of scenarios.

    In one, everyone is in on it, sometimes as many as 10 people. They crash cars, and then call to report it.

    Sometimes they use junk cars that are towed to the fake accident scene.

    "All you need to do is have a scuff on you bumper to initiate a PIP claim," said the official.

    In the other scenario, the crooks drive around targeting unsuspecting drivers, and then crash into them.

    After the crash, those involved visit a health clinic, which is also part of the scheme.

    Employees bill insurance companies for treatment that the patients never receive.

    In many cases, officers said, the clinic owners are the masterminds because they can rack up thousands of dollars guaranteed by PIP laws.

    Diana Merice and Fredrick Freeman were recently arrested at their Blessing Rehab Clinic.

    Insurance fraud drives up the cost of insurance premiums.

    Officials said anyone with information on these schemes is asked to call the fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445.

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