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'Cappers' target Metro Detroit crash victims in illegal insurance scheme

'Cappers' illegally solicit attorneys to crash victims; recent trend in Metro Detroit, Michigan

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DETROIT – It's a traumatic moment.

You've been involved in a car crash. Maybe you're injured or maybe you're just shaken up. But one thing is fore sure: Your world has come to a stop and the frustration has just begun.

"She contacted me. She asked, 'How would you like to earn $600 a month for your injuries?'" said crash victim Diamond, who asked not to be identified in this story.

It sounded like easy money.

"I was like, 'OK, is this a scam?' and she said no," Diamond said.

Diamond, 24, was working two jobs, so the opportunity to make extra cash was welcome news after a string of bad luck.

"He just ran a stop sign. After he crashed into us from the left side, I was the driver, so he hit me on the driver side and we ended up on the front lawn," she said.

She was T-boned by a drunken driver who took off running from the crash scene. Diamond was left with head and back pain.

The next day, the phone calls began. Strangers started pressuring Diamond to make a decision and sign up to cash in on her crash injuries.

"He kept calling me and I kept hanging up on him," she said. "And then a bunch of other people started calling me. 'How would you like to earn $600 for your injuries?'"

Here's how the game works:

The strangers work for attorneys and their job is to lock crash victims in with a lawyer. In many cases, the attorneys will then send the injury victims to specific doctors who exaggerate the severity of the injuries, prescribe unnecessary tests and treatment then over bill insurance companies. Kickbacks are doled out. The strangers have a name: They're called cappers, runners or steerers. Now, their game is called illegal.

"If someone approaches you and says, 'Sign these documents to hire an attorney,' don't do it," said veteran injury attorney David Femminineo.

Femminineo said soliciting victims is not fair to victims.

"'Hey, I know you're injured and you're on a lot of medication at this time, but this person is going to protect your rights ... just sign here,'" he said.

He said it's also not fair to the majority of attorneys who play by the rules.

"It's very unfair for those attorneys who pay for advertising, who have excellent reputations and have clients that want to come back to them for injury matters," Femminineo said. "These runners, or cappers or solicitors, or dirt bags as I like to call them, or ambulance chasers is what they really are ... they contact these victims. Not only are these people victimized once by getting into an accident, they're being victimized again by these solicitors."

A Detroit police officer for more than 30 years, now-retired Tom Berry has been investigating fraud for a national insurance company for the past five years.

"What we've seen from my end of it, from the fraud end, is a 10,000 percent increase in solicitation cases."

Just who is targeted?

Berry said anyone involved in an accident who files a report. The cappers monitor specific databases for information on the crash victims.

This is quickly becoming a big business and Berry says the numbers don't lie.

"In 1998, the average cost of a medical claim for an accident was $9,000. In 2012, that number jumped to $32,000 average per case," Berry said. "That's a tremendous increase."

Berry stresses that the real victims in this crime is the accident victim and anyone who pays for insurance, because they're getting stuck with a growing bill.

"Who pays that? The Michigan tax payers. We're gonna pay that and we're sick and tired of paying that."

Unrelenting phone calls

For Diamond, she's just sick and tired of the phone calls.

"I don't think they should call you and tell you, 'Hey, how would you like to earn $600?' ... because it's not right," she said.

In the state of Michigan, it is a felony for anyone to solicit you if you have been in an accident. The problem: Experts say many police departments aren't familiar with the new law and have not started cracking down on cappers.