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Prosecuting Insurance Fraud—A Case Study of the Massachusetts Experience in the 1990s

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There is widespread agreement that insurance fraud is a major problem in the United States. There is little agreement, however, in what constitutes insurance fraud in the many articles and research papers published on the subject during the past ten years. The term ‘‘fraud’’ carries the connotation that the activity is illegal and, hence, that prosecution and conviction are potential outcomes of a specific fraud. Accepting that premise allows us to adopt the legal definition of fraud in the insurance context and to examine the experience of dealing with insurance fraud in terms of property-liability insurance lines. Specifically, we examine ten years of data on referrals and disposals of incidents of suspected fraud as processed by the Insurance Fraud Bureau of Massachusetts to provide estimates of the distribution of types of people who perpetrate a variety of insurance frauds. We compile conviction rates, sentencing outcomes, and recidivism rates in detail to illuminate the law enforcement process and to gauge the deterrent effect of prosecuting insurance fraud in the criminal courts. The Massachusetts data lead us to conclude that the number of cases of convictable fraud is much smaller than the prevailing view of the extent of fraud; that the majority of guilty subjects have prior (noninsurance) criminal records; and that sentencing of subjects guilty of insurance fraud appears effective as both a general and specific deterrent for insurance fraud but ineffective as a specific deterrent for other crime types, as the recidivism rate appears no different from the general property criminal's recidivism rate.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2002-09-01

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