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Professional Victims

How to protect yourself against "big fakers"?

Some scam artists make a career out of faking injuries and trying to get a settlement. These people typically target businesses with high customer traffic and inexperienced employees, such as grocery stores, fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, theaters and pet shops. Some cruise from business to business, looking for an extension cord stretched across an aisle, a top-heavy stack of boxes or a wet floor with no warning sign. Others create a hazard, spilling soap on a restroom floor or grapes in the produce aisle. Then, just like a stunt double who knows how not to get hurt, they fake a fall or pull boxes down on top of themselves.

After employees come to the rescue, the person's next move is probably a letter to your insurance company demanding compensation. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, 10 percent of all insurance claims are fraudulent. After reviewing medical documentation of the "head injury" or "sciatic nerve damage"-typically soft tissue injuries that a good scammer knows how to fake-the insurance company is likely to offer a settlement. That costs you in higher premiums.

If a customer appears hurt, be sympathetic and helpful because it might be real. But keep a single-use camera handy to take pictures of the scene. Call both an ambulance and the police, who will ask for identification. Ask if anyone else saw what happened, but beware of "witnesses" who seem too eager. Report any suspicions to your insurance adjuster.


Steven C. Bahls, Dean of Capital University Law School in Columbus, Ohio, teaches entrepreneurship law. Freelance writer Jane Easter Bahls specializes in business and legal topics.

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This article was originally published in the May 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Professional Victims.

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