Fraud may not be a violent offense, but it can attract severe penalties, including lengthy prison terms, huge fines as well as other consequences that could affect a person’s life in many ways. In California, there are different types of fraud crimes, and they all violate both federal and state laws. Insurance fraud is among the most common type of these crimes. It entails falsifying one’s insurance policy to obtain money undeservedly. Among the insurance fraud cases that we deal with at the San Diego Criminal Attorney is Car Insurance Fraud.
If you are facing charges for Auto Insurance Fraud today, there might be chances that you are not guilty of the offense. You could have acted the way you did with no criminal intent. In that case, you could get in touch with us for the best legal defense. Through our skills and experience, we might compel the court to either drop or reduce your charges.
Legal Definition of Auto Insurance Fraud
In the state of California, Car Insurance Fraud falls in the broader category of Criminal Fraud, and it only deals with fraud cases involving car insurance. Insurance Fraud laws in California are designed to punish as well as prevent any false claims that could be intended to produce payments to payees or consumers by insurance companies.
There are many ways in which a person could commit insurance fraud. They could, for instance, submit a claim based on an exaggerated, false, or deliberate loss. A vehicle repair shop could also inflate the costs of their services or charge for services that were not delivered. Insurance fraud may not seem like a serious offense, but it is, considering the amount of money that insurance companies lose to fraudsters through fraudulent acts.
Vehicle Insurance Fraud is committed in the same way as other insurance fraud crimes only that it involves only those fraudulent activities that revolve around a vehicle or automobile insurance. Most insurance fraud crimes that affect car insurance are convicted as felonies, though there are those fraud crimes that the court could charge as wobblers. If a person submits a false car insurance claim, for instance, they could be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony, depending on the circumstances of their case.
There are many forms of California auto insurance fraud today, each with its unique definition. The penalties an offender gets for committing car insurance fraud also depends on the kind of fraud crime they have committed against their auto insurer. Some of the offenses that qualify as car insurance frauds in California include:
- Inflating the cost of an insurance claim
- Falsely reporting that someone has stolen your car
- Staging a car accident to get fraudulently compensated by your car insurance provider
Forms of California Vehicle Insurance Fraud
To understand California Vehicle Insurance Fraud laws better, let us look at the various types of Car Insurance Fraud and how each of these offenses is committed:
Car Insurance Fraud by Abandoning or Damaging a Vehicle- Section 548 of California Legal Code
Section 548 of California laws make it an offense to do as follows:
- To destroy, injure, dispose or abandon a car or any other type of motor vehicle, which an insurance company has insured against damage or loss
- To do so with an intent to prejudice or defraud the insurance provider
Intent to prejudice or defraud, as used in this context, means that the person intends to deceive their insurance provider into causing them financial loss or harm to their property, legal, or economic rights.
Note that a person can still be charged with Car Insurance Fraud if they destroyed, injured, abandoned, or hid their vehicle even if their insurance provider did not lose any money as a result of their actions. The same will apply even though the car was not theirs.
If, for instance, a person vandalizes their car with the hope that they could collect the insurance money for vandalism, but when the police come, the person, out of guilt, confesses his/her actions. He/she will still be guilty of car insurance fraud, even if no claim was filed to the insurance company.
Again, a person can still be guilty of this offense even if the insurance policy was not valid. I will be so as long as the defendant believed that the plan was credible, and they committed the offense with the intention of collecting money on the policy.
The offense of destroying, damaging, abandoning, or hiding a person’s insured vehicle with the intention of defrauding an insurance provider is a felony in California. The penalties a person could get if found guilty of the offense include:
- Formal/felony probation
- Two, three or five years behind bars
- Fines of not more than $50,000
The defendant is also likely to get a sentence enhancement of two years for every previous felony conviction they have received for any Car Insurance Fraud.
Car Insurance Fraud through Fraudulent Claims- Section 550 of California Legal Code
Section 550 of the California laws cover many different types of Car Insurance Fraud. These are:
Section 550(a) (4) makes it illegal for any person to present a fraudulent or false claim for destruction, theft, conversion, or damage to their vehicle. For a person to be found guilty of this offense, the prosecutor must prove a few facts of this crime, which are the elements of the crime. They are:
- That the person fraudulently or falsely filed a claim to be paid for the loss suffered through damage, destruction, conversion or theft of a vehicle, motor vehicle parts or contents of their motor vehicle
- That they did so knowing well that the application was fraudulent or false
- That by submitting the request, the person planned to defraud their insurance provider
Just the same as the above offense of abandoning or damaging a car, it is not required that the insurance company suffers an economic loss for the person to be found guilty of the offense.
Note that the defendant will only be culpable of this offense if they knew too well that the claim they were submitting was fraudulent or false. If, for instance, another driver accidentally rams into your car from behind, it will be an offense if you filed a compensation claim for other damages to your vehicle that were there even before the accident.
Section 550 of California Legal Code- Presenting Multiple Claims
This is another way in which many people violate state laws against Car Insurance Fraud. Presenting multiple claims happens when:
- When a person files two or more applications for one loss and to different or the same insurance providers
- They do so knowing too well that they are filing multiple claims for one damage
- They do so with the intention to defraud the insurance provider
The law against submitting various applications is also under Section 550 (a) (4) of the California Legal Code.
Both offenses of making fraudulent claims and submitting false claims to defraud an insurance provider, provided under Sections 550(a)(4) and 550(a)(2) respectively, are convicted as felonies. Some of the penalties the offender is likely to get are:
- Felony or formal probation
- Two, three or five years behind bars
- Fines of not more than $50,000 or double the fraud amount, the one that is greater
In addition to that, the offender is likely to get a sentence enhancement of two years for every previous felony conviction they have for car insurance fraud under either Section 550 or 548. Note that if you have a previous conviction for a similar offense, you may not get a suspended sentence or probation.
Section 550 of California Legal Code- Causing a Car Accident
A person is believed to have violated Section 550(a) (3) of the California Legal Code if they do the following:
- They participate or cause a car accident
- If they do so knowing well that the resolve of that crash is to submit a fraudulent or false insurance claim
- If they intend to defraud their insurance provider
Note that you can only be guilty of causing a collision with fraudulent intent if these two statements are true:
- That the car accident was a natural, direct and the likely result of your behavior
- That the car accident wouldn’t have occurred if you did not act the way you did
Example: John requires a lot of cash but does not know how he could raise the money. An idea comes to his mind on how he can use his old car to get all the money that he needs. He organizes with his friend, Peter, who owns a big truck, on how they will cause an accident for him to get compensation from his insurance company. Peter does his end of the bargain, by hitting John’s old car hard and then flees the accident scene. Both Peter and John are culpable of Car Insurance Fraud by causing a car accident intending to swindle the insurance provider.
The offense of committing car insurance fraud by causing a vehicle accident is also a felony, as provided under Section 550(a)(3) of California Laws. The penalties the offender is likely to get if found guilty of the offense include:
- Felony probation
- Two, three, or five years of incarceration
- Fines of not more than $50,000 or twice the fraud amount, the one that is greater
Again, the offender could get a punishment enhancement for this offense in the following manner:
- Punishment boost for two-years for every previous felony conviction they might have for car insurance fraud
- Punishment enhancement for five years for every two or more past felony convictions they might have for causing a car accident to defraud an insurance company
- Punishment enhancement for two years for every person, except their accomplice who might have suffered severely as a result of their actions
- A potential punishment boost of three years or more if the offender personally inflicted severe physical injury on another person in the process of committing the offense
Section 550 of the California Legal Code: Making False Statements
This law is under Section 550 (b) subsections 1-4, and it makes it illegal for a person to do all the following:
- To present an oral or written declaration as part of a claim or in obstruction to an application for a car insurance compensation or other benefits, knowing too well that the declaration is false and misleading concerning the facts of the matter
- To make or prepare any written or oral statement intending to present it to a car insurer to obtain auto insurance, falsely stating that you live in the state of California when you live in a different part of the country
Example: For fear of paying more premiums for their vehicle insurance in their state of residence, a person can claim to be living in California, where auto insurance premiums are a little affordable. This person is guilty of Car Insurance Fraud for making fraudulent statements to pay less in car insurance.
The offense of making dishonest statements to defraud an insurance company, as provided under Section 550(b)(1)-(4) of California laws, is a wobbler. It means that the court can convict the offense as either a felony or a misdemeanor. The decision of the prosecutor will be influenced by the following:
- The facts of the alleged crime
- The offender’s criminal history
If the offender gets a felony conviction, the penalties they are likely to receive are just the same as those listed above for other car insurance fraud offenses. However, if they get a misdemeanor conviction, the penalties they are likely to receive are as follows:
- Misdemeanor or summary probation
- A maximum of one year behind bars
- Maximum fines of $10,000
Car Insurance Fraud by Employees or Business Owners
Owners, employees, or representatives of businesses that deal with auto insurance can also violate California laws against car insurance in more ways than one. When they do this, they make themselves subject to criminal responsibility and could be charged and convicted accordingly. Some of the ways in which these parties could commit Car Insurance Fraud include:
- When an auto insurance business solicits, refers or accepts business from or to a person or entity knowing too well, or with disregard that the person or business plans to commit car insurance fraud
- When a car repair shop offers a fee, commits or shares profits or any other kind of compensation with an insurance adjuster, agent, or broker in exchange for receiving policyholders to their shops for repairs that have been covered by car insurance
The offense of soliciting, accepting, or referring car insurance fraud business is under Section 549 of California laws. For any person who receives, seeks or refer business to or from a person whose intention is to commit insurance fraud could be charged with either a felony or misdemeanor because the offense is a wobbler in the state.
If the offender gets a felony conviction for the crime, the following are the penalties they are likely to receive:
- Felony probation
- 16 months, two, or three years of jail time
- Fines of not more than $50,000 or two-times the fraud money- the one that is greater
If, on the other hand, the offender gets a misdemeanor conviction, the penalties they are likely to get are:
- Misdemeanor probation
- Maximum jail time of one year
- Fines of not more than $1000
If the offender has a 2nd or more convictions for violating any auto insurance law in California, they will receive a felony conviction and the above-listed penalties.
Receiving kickbacks from a car repair shop is a different offense, covered under Section 551 of California Legal Code. This section of the law makes it a crime for insurance agents, adjusters, or brokers to receive kickbacks from repair shops for business. Determination of penalties for this offense considers the amount of fraud money in question. If the money the auto repair shop is offering or required to give is at or less than $950, the offender might receive a misdemeanor conviction. The potential penalties for this charge include a maximum jail term of six months and fines of not more than $1000.
If, on the other hand, the kickback amount is more than $950, the offense is a wobbler, which means that the court can convict it as a felony or misdemeanor. If convicted as a misdemeanor, the offender is likely to get a jail sentence of not more than one year and fines of not more than $1000. However, if convicted as a felony, the jail time will be 16 months, two or three years and the maximum fine will be $10,000
Possible Legal Strategies to Defend California Vehicle Insurance Fraud Charges
From the penalties listed above, it is clear that Vehicle Insurance Fraud is one of the most severely punished offenses in the state of California. For that reason, it is essential for a person facing such charges to fight their charges for reduced charges or to have their case dismissed altogether. It is possible through the help of the best criminal defense attorney. The good thing is that there are several defense strategies that your attorney can use to convince the court to reduce or drop your charges. Some of these are:
You didn’t have fraudulent intent
Fraudulent intent is one of the most critical elements of any fraud crime. If a person didn’t act with malicious intent, then there is no way to prove that they are guilty of fraud. There are many times whereby a thoughtless mistake on the part of a person will be interpreted as a likely act of fraud by their insurance company. If this is conveyed to the authorities, then the person could be arrested and charged with Auto Insurance Fraud.
A smart criminal defense attorney should be intelligent enough to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case by stating that you just made a simple mistake, with no criminal intent. If his/her defense works, then your charges could be dropped or reduced to a more lenient charge.
There is no sufficient evidence to show that you are guilty of insurance fraud
Again, there must be enough proof to show that you indeed intended to commit or you actually committed the offense. Fraud crimes are usually hard to prove by the prosecutor. If he/she is unable to gather enough evidence against the defendant, the court may not have enough facts to convict the offender. Lack of enough evidence may cause the court to drop your charges altogether. A smart attorney can take advantage of the fact that there were no witnesses to cast doubt on the prosecutor’s case. If he/she succeeds, you will be allowed to go free with no case to answer.
The unfortunate thing is that it is not unusual to see people serving sentences for crimes they did not commit. Some people accuse others falsely for reasons such as revenge, anger, or jealousy. Without proper defense, an innocent person could end up in jail for a crime they did not commit in the first place. If you are facing false accusations for Auto Insurance Fraud, it is essential to talk to your attorney at length and let him/her understand why you are facing those charges.
An experienced attorney will be able to convince the court that the facts of the case are not as presented by the prosecutor. If you can come up with a good defense against your charges, the court will drop your charges.
Find a San Diego Criminal Attorney Near Me
Car insurance fraud is a huge problem, not just in California but in the entire country. For that reason, prosecutors work very hard to investigate and prosecute cases that come to their attention. If you are facing charges today, there is a higher chance of facing very stiff penalties if you are found guilty of Auto Insurance Fraud. For that reason, you need the best legal team to work on your defense. At the San Diego Criminal Attorney, we have an excellent team of criminal defense attorneys who can take up your case and change its outcome. Call us at 619-880-5474 and let us influence the decision of the court.