INSURANCE FRAUD COSTS THE AVERAGE AMERICAN FAMILY $200-$300 ANNUALLY Insurance fraud is one of the most costly white-collar crimes in America, ranking second only to tax evasion.  And, it's consumers who pay the price.  It is estimated that the average American family pays an additional $200 to $300 a year in insurance premiums due to insurance fraud.

"Billions of dollars are picked from American pockets each year by what many consider a victimless crime," said Leanne Snay, Executive Director, Insurance Information Association of Michigan (IIAM).  "However, this so-called victimless crime is costing Michigan residents hundreds of dollars each year."

Insurance fraud has many faces.  It ranges from otherwise honest people who "paid" their legitimate claims to elaborate schemes perpetrated by members of an organized ring.  It is alarming that a significant number of Americans believe that it is acceptable to pad an insurance claim.  A recent survey found that more than one in three people think it is all right to overstate an insurance claim to make up for a deductible.

To combat this crime, insurance companies are increasing their efforts to take the profit out of insurance fraud.  Insurance companies have established Special Investigative Units that train representatives to identify losses that should be given a closer look.  In Michigan, the industry is active and helps fund two organizations which have been established to deter all types of arson and auto theft, including fraudulent acts.

Arson Control rewards up to $5000 to persons who provide information that leads to the arrest and/or conviction of arsonists.  The telephone number for reporting these crimes is 1-800-44-ARSON.

HEAT rewards callers up to $1000 if the information leads to the arrest and binding over for trial of suspected car thief; up to $10,000 if the tip results in the arrest and binding over for trial of suspected theft ring members and/or chop shop operators.  The reporting number is 1-800-242-HEAT.

On the federal level, the insurance industry has formed the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB).  This organization works with U.S., state and local law enforcement agents to identify and prosecute those individuals who profit by stealing from insurance companies and their policyholders.  Citizens who want to report fraudulent acts can call 1-800-TEL-NICB.  Tipsters need not leave their names.  Callers are eligible for awards.

The following are tips for Michigan consumers who want to help fight insurance fraud:

*Report all accidents and losses.

*Maintain accurate records of accidents.

*Be alert to possible fraud schemes.

*If you know someone who is committing fraud, call NICB, Arson Control or the HEAT program.