The Great Pretenders

Tricks Of The Trade

Jacob Stone got away with insurance fraud for more than 20 years before he began consulting to business owners on how to avoid personal injury scams. After "A Current Affair" aired his story, however, he was charged with insurance fraud and sentenced to four years in prison. He's now living in a halfway house and has co-written a book with Graham Mott called Insider Secrets onBusiness Liability Fraud (Golden Shadows Press).

Raised in a fourth-generation carnival family, Stone says he was born to hustle. "We were taught to spot the easiest, most vulnerable victims," he says. For personal injury scams, that meant grocery stores, convenience stores, fast-food restaurants, pet shops and theaters because they have high customer traffic and young employees who know little about insurance fraud.

Personal injury scams fall into four basic types:

1. Slip and fall. The "customer" stages a fall on a slippery substance spilled on the floor or in the parking lot. It's typically something that would normally be found on the premises: ketchup at a fast-food restaurant, cleaning supplies in a public restroom, produce dropped on the floor in a grocery store. Some con artists find a spill; others create one.

2. Trip and fall. Con artists often visit stores in search of accidents waiting to happen: an electrical cord stretched across an aisle, a loose weatherstrip, an obstructed sidewalk or merchandise left in the aisle. Then they trip, fall and claim an injury. "Professional hustlers are like professional actors," Stone says. "They know how to stage a fall so well no one can tell the difference."

3. Yank down. In this scam, the hustler finds a top-heavy stack of soda cartons, bags of pet food or other unwieldy merchandise, then pulls it down on top of himself. "It looks legitimate," says Stone, who contends that a professional hustler is as skilled as a stunt man at not getting hurt.

4. Chew and sue. At a restaurant, the schemer will put a shard of glass in a salad or a chicken bone in the soup, then claim to have been injured trying to eat it.

To collect on an insurance claim, the hustler has to have medical documentation of the "injury." Some stick to "internal head injuries" or "sciatic nerve damage," knowing what symptoms to claim and how to move to convince a doctor they're hurt. Others use a syringe to squirt blood up their "broken nose." If they have an old nose injury, they can convince a doctor the damage was caused by this accident, get scheduled for reconstructive surgery and file a claim for $30,000.

Scam artists use fake names and addresses, says Jerry Dolan, a special agent for the NICB. When they call the insurance company to ask about their claim, they say they've moved; the phone's not connected yet. Often the insurance company is willing to settle the claim quickly.

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This article was originally published in the July 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Great Pretenders.

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