COLUMBUS, Ga. — The Georgia Insurance Commissioner’s Office is calling their latest insurance fraud investigation one of the biggest in the state. 26 suspects are accused in an auto insurance fraud ring centered right here in Columbus. 12 of those 26 suspects are in custody.
The suspects are accused of intentionally staging car crashes and filing false claims with 12 different insurance companies. GEICO, State Farm, Nationwide, Safe Auto, Allstate, Progressive, USAA, Georgia Farm Bureau, Safeway, Everest National, Direct Auto, and General Insurance were all listed in a press release as companies victimized by this fraud scam.
Georgia Insurance Commissioner Ralph Hudgens believes 24-year-old Devonta Waddy is the ringleader of the operation. The suspects range in age from 23-56. Of the 12 arrested, two are from Columbus. Four each are from Lumpkin and Richland, one is from Americus and the last is from East Point.
“They’ll buy a liability policy on an automobile,” Hudgens said. “Generally they’ll back out of the driveway and run into a another car, and say ‘Oh! This is my fault.'”
Hudgens says those involved would call the insurance companies about damage but not police.
“They don’t feel like they’re going to get caught,” Director of Fraud Investigations Sherry Mowell said. “They feel like they’re smarter than the insurance companies, and the insurance companies have the ability to flag certain circumstances.”
Mowell says insurance companies notcied a link among dozens of suspicious claims filed between 2013-2016. The claims asked for payouts totaling more than $500,000. The insurance companies only payed out about $156,000.
“People say, ‘Well the insurance companies have a lot of money,'” Hudgens said. “The only place insurance companies get money is from us individually. And every time they have to pay out a fraudulent claim, it costs everyone.”
“We see them in all corners of Georgia,” Mowell explained about insurance fraud rings. “A lot of times it’ll be one friend talking to the other and they come up with this idea.”
Hudgens says last year, false claims were estimated to cost a policy holder $400-$700. The Muscogee County District Attorney will prosecute the cases.
“I’m not going to comment on anything that could happen in the future,” Muscogee County District Attorney Julia Slater said. “We’re going to wait and see how it pans out and get the investigations. Our office will review them and see what’s appropriate.”Suspects in Insurance Fraud Ring
When asked about a potential timeline for the investigation, Slater said it would take a while to get to all the cases.
“It’s hard to tell at this point how long any prosecution is going to take,” Slater said. “There’s going to be a lot of variables between here and the end of the prosecution in any case. So it’s impossible to predict how long any case will take, much less 26 cases.”
Meanwhile, Hudgens ensures stiff punishment for those caught in the act of insurance fraud.
“Insurance fraud doesn’t pay,” Hudgens said. “It costs everyone. But if you’re perpetuating it, be prepared to spend some jail time. You may get away with it for a time. But we’re coming after you and if we catch you, we’re going to ask the sheriff to put you in jail. We’re going to ask the DA to prosecute you.”