Fake falls costing businesses and consumers billions - NBC12.com - Richmond, VA News

Fake falls costing businesses and consumers billions

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RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) -

An increasing number of scam artists are pretending to slip and fall in stores, trying to make a fast buck, but consumers end up paying for it. 

Who could forget the man charged with fraud after he tried to sue the D.C. Metro for $15,000?Investigators said surveillance video from inside the elevator showed that he dropped a banana peel, looked up at the camera, then pretended to slip on it.

"I think people think it's easy money, it's tax free money, and they think insurance companies have a bottomless wallet," said Pamela Jewell with the Virginia State Police's Stamp Out Fraud unit.

Since the recession, the National Insurance Crime Bureau has seen a rise in referrals for them to investigate questionable slip and fall claims on commercial properties -- from 1542 cases in 2008, to 2064 in 2013. These types of fake falls cost businesses billions to defend or settle.

"Probably for even the smallest premises liability case, to take it to a jury trial, is probably in the range of $15,000 to $20,000 at a minimum," explained defense attorney Cam Beck with the law firm Morris and Morris.

"If they have liability insurance, which will pay for the damages, their premiums go up. If they don't have the insurance, they have to pay the settlement on their own," added Nicole Riley with the National Federation of Independent Business.

And you pay the price as a consumer, too.

"The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates it's at least $1000 or more a year that we pay as consumers, because of the increased cost of goods and insurance," said Jewell.

Virginia is lucky. It's not on the list of states with the most questionable slip and fall cases. The NICB says California, New York, Texas, Illinois, and Florida have the most referrals. In Virginia, the State Police's Stamp Out Fraud unit is working to stamp them out.

"It goes into our database and if this person should ever show up again and we know somebody else saw this happen, he did another one, we have a record in our database," explained Jewell.

So, businesses are urged to protect themselves.

"Hopefully you may have the incident that plaintiff claims on video. Also, do the detective work of talking with customers that were there, to other store employees," advised Beck.

And consumers are urged to report seeing fake slip and falls. Reports can be made online at StampOutFraud.com or by calling 1-877-62FRAUD. State Police offer a $25,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest.

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