Staged auto accidents are the top fraud issue in South Carolina, according to new analysis released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).

South Carolina ranked 13th in the nation in terms of questionable vehicle-related insurance claims, significantly higher than states with similar populations, such as Alabama, Kentucky and Louisiana.

“Staged vehicle accidents are one of the most significant fraud issues facing South Carolina,” said Eric De Campos, director of Strategy, Policy and Government Affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau. “The impact on residents includes both a financial cost and a safety risk. Residents are not only faced with the costs from the damage done to their vehicles, but also risk serious injury and possible death as a result of vehicle accidents deliberately caused by fraudsters.”

Scenarios range from staged accident rings with passengers involved in the conspiracy visiting multiple health clinics to treatments for alleged soft tissue injuries that cannot be verified through medical imaging, the NICB noted. Fake injuries and medical services aim to inflate insurance claims.

The non-profit insurance fraud-fighting organization analyzed questionable vehicle-related insurance claims by city spanning between 2020 through 2022.

The analysis identified the city of Columbia as having the largest number of claims in South Carolina, accounting for 13 percent of the state’s total.

Columbia is followed by Greenville with 5 percent, and Florence with 4 percent.

North Charleston and the city of Sumter both recorded 3 percent of claims from 2020 through 2022. An analysis of questionable claims by county was also conducted and showed that Richland County ranked above all other counties in South Carolina with almost 15 percent of claims followed by Charleston County and Greenville County with 7 percent each, the analysis found.

“In order to combat this fraud, it is essential to provide the South Carolina Insurance Fraud Division and State Department of Insurance access to the critical resources needed to more effectively deter fraudsters,” De Campos said. “This can include raising minimum criminal penalties for insurance fraud.”

NICB provides assistance to review and investigate fraud cases to the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED), which investigates an estimated 2,650 questionable claims filed in the state per year.