America is awash in surveillance cameras. They catch us speeding, jaywalking, robbing ATMs and drugstores. And committing insurance fraud.
This is especially true of some city bus and rail systems. Dishonest passengers use the slightest little traffic tap to try and soak the systems for thousands of dollars in nuisance claims for patently bogus injuries.
So many people have tried the fake-injury gambit on Philadelphia’s bus system that SEPTA has been forced to rig busses with up to 10 cameras per vehicle to catch wrongdoers. Rail cars also are bedecked with the all-seeing lenses. Transit systems in other cities have done likewise.
What’s the tradeoff between preserving passenger privacy, and detecting scams and increasing overall passenger safety?
Look at SEPTA’s experience, at least in fighting insurance scams that contribute to rising fares. At least 9,000 claims for injuries or property damage have been made against SEPTA since the beginning of 2010, and at least 5,000 have been settled in or out of court.
SEPTA also pays about $35 million in claims each year, and about 40 percent of claims are settled without going to court. Some percentage of claims and lawsuits are no doubt false.
Onboard cameras have uncovered varied faked injuries after minor accidents. Here are some recent doozies…
One video shows a woman passenger who didn’t even know the bus was in a low-impact bump. She then flopped down and faked an injury after she realized she had a potential money-maker.
Ronald Moore sprinted down the street to board a bus that was bumped in a minor accident. He climbed aboard and pretended to be injured, holding his back. He was convicted. Moore has nine aliases and convictions for drug, robbery and other offenses.
A motorist who lost control of his vehicle, sliced through two lanes of opposing traffic and hit a SEPTA bus. He claimed the bus went into oncoming traffic and struck his vehicle.
Another woman said a minor crash caused her to jerk and slam against a window, injuring her back. She handed SEPTA a $5,000 insurance claim.
Yet another said the accident caused whiplash, which triggered headaches and back pain. He claimed $6,000 for 39 medical treatments. But no passengers reported injuries at the scene and no emergency crews were called.
Video surveillance on a bus is almost comical. It allegedly shows two passengers talking throughout the ride. Then they continued talking normally after the mirror was clipped, officials say. The DA’s insurance-fraud unit busted them.
SEPTA says it expects all buses to have surveillance cameras this year.
Resolving privacy concerns about bus or train surveillance cameras is beyond the scope of this week’s blog. Let the privacy debates continue on. But in the meantime, city transit systems will be content to let cameras keep disrupting flagrant injury scammers, keeping busses safer, and saving taxpayers and passengers millions of dollars a year.
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.