Spectators at the “Cage of Fire and Strength” tournament would not have guessed that fighter “Noodle” Davis was disabled.
In fact, that’s what he was telling his employer and workers compensation carrier to believe. The Los Angeles fireman is one case among many in a growing population that is bilking employers, insurers and taxpayers in bogus comp and disability scams.
Recent statistics show a 20% increase in questionable workers compensation claims, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
Comp cases are unfortunately often seen as lighthearted types of scams. Rather than gruesome surgeries, or fatal arsons, fraudulent comp claims frequently involve uninjured workers faking ailments. Amusing surveillance videos may accompany such cases. They include classics like a “back injury” case, where the worker is filmed playing basketball or lifting boxes, and a “leg injury” case, with an employee throwing a walker into the trunk and jumping in the car.
Most comp fraud cases involve a single worker trying to scheme the system, like Noodle Davis’ case. Workers also may cash in on the comp income while earning money illicitly on the side. Ohio photographer Richard Ketcham was sentenced last week for running a photo business while supposedly disabled. In Massachusetts, a corrections officer ran a body shop while collecting comp money.
Disability fraud has at times turned into a group affair. The ongoing Long Island Rail Road bust has netted the arrests of numerous workers, doctors and even an electrician, who all allegedly were cooperating toward a fraudulent early retirement. For years, workers retired by claiming disabling injuries. Many collected tens of thousands of dollars while playing golf and other recreational sports.
Comp fraud also can turn tragic. When a California contractor fell from a tree and died, his grieving family learned the man’s employer hadn’t purchased the required coverage. Early this year, a Massachusetts roofer admitted to misclassifying his business and lying about payroll to illegally lower his comp premiums — leaving employees dangerously uncovered when injury strikes.
At all ends of the spectrum, comp and disability fraud are serious issues. Stealing comp money raises premiums and threatens jobs. Taxpayers are ripped off, as well, as in the Long Island Rail Road case. And the wellbeing of uncovered workers and their families is jeopardized.
But as the latest convictions show, these frauds also are serious business for scammers who think they’ll go undetected and get away with flagrant thievery.
About the author: Jennifer Tchinnosian is communications specialist for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.