Insurance company issues cameras in bid to fight fraud

Wednesday, April 16th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (AP) _ After the crash, click.

State Farm is distributing 77,000 disposable cameras to Long Island auto insurance customers as part of a new program to cut fraud. The customers are being asked to keep the cameras in their cars to document damages in an accident.

``Fraud in New York state is a $1 billion business,'' State Farm spokeswoman Karyn Garsky said. The cost of the cameras is estimated to be at least $100,000 _ a small investment, Garsky said, compared to the losses from fraudulent claims.

State Farm hopes a policyholder using the camera at a crash scene will prevent the other driver from making claims for damages resulting from other circumstances.

State Farm is believed to be the first insurance company to offer cameras to its customers, said P.J. Crowley, a vice president of the industry-backed Insurance Information Institute.

``This is definitely a low-tech solution, but the kind of thing that can pay off just by preventing a small number of fraud accidents from turning into thousands of dollars in payouts,'' Crowley said.

If successful, the insurance company may expand the program nationwide.

The voluntary program is beginning in Long Island's Nassau County because agents there came up with the idea. The 15-exposure cameras were mailed to customers this month. After the cameras are used, customers take them to their agents for developing.

Hofstra University law professor Roy Simon, a State Farm customer who received a camera, applauded the goal of cutting down on fraud, although he admitted to some skepticism.

``It's putting all the evidence in the hands of State Farm, which may or may not be to the advantage of the policyholder. In a way, it keeps a leash on policyholders,'' Simon said.

Garsky said extra prints can be made for a policyholder who requests them, although she conceded that legally, the photographs would remain the property of the insurance company.