They are often referred to as “slammers” – drivers who intentionally crash into other vehicles, frequently commercial tractor-trailer trucks, so the slammer and their passengers can fraudulently collect insurance settlements.
Back in March, a member of a group of slammers pleaded guilty to participating in a series of staged car crashes across Louisiana. She actively took part in a deliberate wreck as a four-person crew that has been staging crashes since 2015. Now, she faces a five-year prison term for mail fraud, accompanied by $250,000 in fines and restitution, a three-year supervised release, and 100 hours of community service.
The Long-Term Con of Operation Sideswipe
Court documents revealed an elaborate scheme involving a slammer colliding with an 18-wheeler, then fleeing the scene in another car, known as a “spotter,” that trailed the slammer. Another person replaced the slammer and insisted they were driving, claiming the truck driver was at fault. False police reports and personal injury lawsuits are filed.
This was the latest court case in a policing campaign directed by the district attorney’s office, known as Operation Sideswipe. Over the last five years, 31 conspirators have been convicted of related crimes.
These crews of slammers went to extreme measures to defraud trucking companies, commercial vehicles, and insurance companies out of thousands of dollars. Members of these slam crews sought medical treatment even when they were not even involved in the crash but claimed to be the driver or a passenger. One of the scam artists went as far as enduring back surgery despite receiving no injuries in the collision.
Mail fraud occurred after settlement checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars were sent on various occasions to co-conspirators through the U.S. Postal Service. In a collision on the I-10 with a Hotard charter bus, a four-person slammer crew claimed the bus improperly changed lanes and crashed into them. They received a total settlement of approximately $677,500 in 2017.
The Business of Staged Accidents
Staged collisions are not a covert scam done in the dark. Fraudulent crashes happen night and day, often in highly populated areas where vehicle congestion occurs. Because of chaotic driving conditions, a skilled slammer operates in front of onlookers and witnesses and can make it look like the trucker or commercial driver is at fault.
But it is not only commercial drivers targeted. Crashes are often staged in affluent or wealthy communities with newly purchased high-end vehicles or rental cars. In these cases, the scammer’s intent is to take advantage of well-insured, individual drivers who have comprehensive policies with large insurance companies.
Because they are perceived as less combative at crash scenes, senior citizens and women driving alone are preyed on. But regardless of the individual driver or commercial driver, there are some schemes and techniques that are common in staged crashes that may help identify when a scam is taking place. But these crashes often do not look like an act of fraud. Instead, they look like any other collision.
Common Schemes of Staged Crashes
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has put together the common schemes and techniques that are often seen in staged crashes. These include:
The Left-Turn Drive Down
This occurs when a driver prepares to make a left-hand turn on a four-lane road, a driver in the oncoming lane stops and motions for the driver to turn. As the driver is in the act of turning, the motioning driver then pulls forward and blocks the path, and when the driver is forced to stop in the middle of the road, a slammer comes along in the other oncoming lane and slams into the side of the car.
The driver who originally motioned and blocked the path then leaves, and all the evidence at the scene of the accident looks like the turning driver was at fault for recklessly turning into oncoming traffic. The slammer will file a claim with the driver’s insurance company and provide a list of injuries and damage they sustained because of the collision.
The Right-Turn Drive Down
This occurs when a driver is turning right at an intersection, and a slammer crashes into the left rear of the turning car. The slammer and their passengers will state on the incident report that the turning driver neglected to check before pulling into traffic. The turning driver will again appear to be at fault for police reports, and fraudulent claims will be filed with insurance companies.
The Curb Drive Down
This occurs when a driver is pulling away from a curb into the clear right lane of four-lane traffic. Then, a slammer swerves from the left lane, intentionally crashing into the side of the merging vehicle. Again, the slammer and their passengers control the narrative of the police report or insurance claim by insisting the unaware driver pulled into traffic and caused the damage and injuries.
This can occur in two separate ways.
- On a city street – This uses two slammer vehicles. The first slammer vehicle is known as the “squat” car, which gets in front of the target’s car. The “swoop” car is in front of the squat car and signals the squat vehicle abruptly brake. Targets do not have time to react and crash into the rear end of the squat car. The swoop car swoops away from the scene. The targeted driver is stuck holding the bag for damages to the rear-ended/squat car and the passengers’ injuries.
- On a highway or freeway – This is like a swoop-and-squat on a surface street, only three slammer vehicles are used on an expressway. In this version, the three slammer cars surround the target’s car, boxing them in and not allowing them to change lanes. The swoop car cuts off the squat car, forcing the squat car driver to slam on their brakes and the target to crash into the squat’s rear. Then, the swoop and the box-in rush away, leaving the scene to look like a typical rear-end accident.
Tips on Avoiding a Staged Crash
Here are a few tips to help avoid falling victim to a slammer:
- Do not tailgate or follow cars too closely
- Always call the police if a crash occurs
- Do not fall prey to people who mysteriously appear at an accident scene and offer advice or witness statements, try to control the scene
It is also important to watch out for tow trucks that appear without being called. These could be “cappers,” another scam that may be run in conjunction with body shops.