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Abandoned cars spark suspicions

Investigators say Gustav may be cover for fraud

BILOXI, Miss. – Dozens of relatively new cars, trucks and SUVs were abandoned in some strange places as Hurricane Gustav rolled through the Gulf Coast recently, and investigators said many of these cases have insurance fraud written all over them.

Several car owners drove their vehicles as close to the beach as possible and then bailed out.

Investigators said owners who may have bitten off more than they can chew in monthly car payments often look for an easy way out of car debt.

In Gulfport, Miss., several cars were left near the Ken Combs Pier and others were abandoned near the Island View Casino. One was left at the Pass Christian Harbor and others in random spots along the Coast.

With gas prices soaring and values of gas-guzzling vehicles declining, the National Insurance Crime Bureau says auto-insurance fraud is on the rise.

“If that vehicle is registered somewhere outside the zone, somewhere farther north, then the first question is going to be how is it that the vehicle ended up next to a boat launch on the Mississippi Sound?” said Frank Scafidi, spokesman for the insurance crime bureau in Sacramento, Calif.

Unlike homeowner policies, insurance policies for automobiles cover flooding, state Deputy Insurance Commissioner Lee Harrell said. Insurance companies usually investigate suspicious claims before paying them.

“Generally, people when they evacuate take their vehicles with them,” Harrell said. “But if you live in one place and your vehicle is in another, that’s a suspicious claim.”