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The 5 Worst Cases of Insurance Fraud in History

Insurance fraud comes in all shapes and sizes: from massive international scams, down to everyday people exaggerating how much damage their cars actually incurred (called “soft fraud”). The results are huge costs for everyone involved: for example, in 2004 alone, the FBI recovered more than $1 billion lost in health insurance fraud alone. Here are the five worst cases, what they did … and whether they’re still out there running loose.

#1) John Darwin’s Life Insurance Fraud

Life Insurance Fraud

Life insurance fraud is fairly straightforward: somebody fakes their own death, someone else collects on the insurance, and the two go off to live a happy life in some foreign land. What’s most shocking about John Darwin’s case isn’t the amount involved; it’s that he conducted his own faked death so incompetently and still got the payoff … and that he stayed “dead” for five years.

First, there’s the death itself: Darwin paddled out into England’s North Sea on a canoe and vanished. The problem, of course, was that Darwin, not being suicidal, had picked a day where the water was calm and it was unlikely for him to run into trouble. Rescuers looking at the scene were baffled as to how he had gotten lost at sea. But they found his paddle and decided to write him off.

By this point, he had moved into the apartment next door to his house (guess he was attached to the place), and was actually recognized by people in the neighborhood, but that didn’t stop the agency from paying off his claim. Nor did the behavior of his wife, Anne, who was obviously in on it: instead of grieving and trying to move on with her life, she instead took holidays and was generally quite cheery.

It started to unravel in 2006 when a photo of John and Anne in Panama, where they were considering moving, popped up in newspapers. So, in 2007, John walked into a police station and claimed he’d had amnesia for the last five years.

Needless to say, it didn’t work: they were caught, convicted, and just released on parole this year.

#2) Isabel Parker, the Queen of Slipping

Worst Insurance Fraud

Slip-and-fall scams are pretty familiar: everybody’s heard of that one con artist who pretends to slip in a grocery store and then tries to sue for damages. But some people get really good at something, and in Isabel Parker’s case, that was faking injury and collecting insurance settlements.

You do feel a little bad for Parker: she wasn’t a hardened con artist leading a life of crime. She was a retiree with a serious gambling problem. In fact, part of the reason she got away with 50 slip-and-fall scams over seven years was the fact that the money didn’t go to a fancy house or a new wardrobe: it went straight to the casino, all $500,000 of it.

The other way she got away with it? Using multiple fake identities, and settling over the phone. Even the best insurance companies are fairly eager to pay out in cases like this, as a genuine claim can take their clients for millions. By contrast, even a $27,640 payout, the highest Parker ever collected, seems like a deal.

She was finally caught by a suspicious insurance agent, who ran her address through their system and found dozens of claims. She served four years of house arrest and is currently, as far as we know, staying upright.

#3) Carla Patterson Finds a Mouse in Her Soup

Worst Insurance Fraud

One of the most common insurance scams is the liability insurance scam: a business insures itself against being sued, and if they are, the insurance company pays up. It makes a ripe target for con men and women of all types — but the gutsiest, and the grossest, award probably goes to Carla Patterson.

Patterson claimed, in 2005, to have found a mouse in her vegetable soup while dining at Cracker Barrel. Needless to say, she was less than happy about the whole thing and was suing for emotional damages. But she’d gladly settle for $500,000.

Unfortunately for her, insurance agencies don’t hand out half a million dollars without doing some fact checking, and what sunk Patterson was a mouse autopsy. An hour’s work showed there was no soup in the mouse’s lungs and that it showed no signs of being exposed to extreme heat…meaning that the mouse wasn’t cooked and Carla was. Carla and her son, who was also involved in the plot, instead went to prison.

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#4) Steven Cooperman Tries to Steal His Own Art

Worst Insurance Fraud

Fine art combines the financial and historical value of antiques with the financial value of, well, collecting baseball cards. As we all know, stumbling across a Van Gogh in an attic or a Picasso at a yard sale can collect the lucky guy millions. But, after you’ve bought it, you need to insure it.

In Cooperman’s case, it became mighty tempting to see if having it “stolen” would put some money in his pocket.

Cooperman was no stranger to insurance fraud: he was already an infamously shady ophthalmologist who was in real financial trouble thanks to his tendency to overstate how much was owed at his practice. At the time, he owed $6 million, and his paintings, sold on the market, would only be worth about $2.5 million.

But he’d managed to talk the insurance company into a $17.5 million policy … which is what he collected when a friend walked in and stole them. And, if the friend hadn’t jilted his girlfriend, he would have gotten away with it: she was the one who tipped off police. As it is, he won’t be collecting any art anytime soon: he had so many counts against him that his prison term is effectively a life sentence. That might go down as one of the weirdest insurance policies.

#5) Greed Is Not So Good

Worst Insurance Fraud

Still, if you want truly staggering fraud, try this one for size: $631 million. Who got ripped off? You did, if you paid taxes in the 1990s.

Hospital Corporation of America had a great business plan: as a network of hospitals, it handled a huge number of Medicare cases. So all they did was pad the numbers. A few marketing costs claimed as “reimbursable expenses” here, a lie about hospital space there, and by the time the FBI got suspicious and started raiding their offices (and the offices of doctors affiliated with the company), they’d collected over $600 million in fraudulently obtained funds.

Of course, it helps to have an inside man: Tennessee Senator Bill Frist was a member of the family that had founded and owned a large chunk of the company, and there have been accusations he used his power to intervene.

Still, the wheels of justice grind slowly but exceedingly fine; HCA ultimately had to pay out $2 billion in civil lawsuit costs, the single highest fraud judgment in history. Of course, they immediately learned from that lesson and acted above board in all future endeavors.

OK, not really: in 2005, half the board was accused of inflating the stock’s value and then dumping it when it fell off a financial cliff.

But, we’re sure that they’ve learned their lesson now. At least we hope so: the private company was recently taken public in a $3.8 billion IPO. Uh … keep a close eye on the accounting, guys.

Final Thoughts

What if your valuables really did get stolen? What if you did slip and fall in a grocery store? In these cases, you want to be covered, and we’re here to help. Just enter your ZIP code into the insurance comparison box below, and we’ll give you the cheapest quotes from the best providers. From home insurance to auto insurance to health, we’ll find the insurance policy that’s honestly right for you.

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