Friday, 31 August 2001 10:00

BAR investigators explain new inspection program

"If you're a good shop, you have nothing to worry about. If you're a bad shop, you have every reason to be concerned!" warned the California Bureau of Automotive Repair's Robert Trent. Trent, who works out of BAR's Oceanside office, was addressing the San Diego chapter of California Autobody Association at their July meeting. Trent and his associate Bill Neu discussed the BAR inspection program that began July 1. The inspection program was created by the Auto Insurance Fraud Act (SB 1998) of 2000. 

{mosimage} CAA member Rick Reiss, Vice President of Caliber Collision Centers, said the industry is "getting a bad rap" from the numbers recently released by BAR to the media from a 1994 study that showed fraud in 40% of autobody repairs. This number has been heavily questioned by the industry due to the admitted statistical inaccuracy of the investigation. The study lacked a random selection process for the vehicles checked by BAR. 

CAA members commented that they are worried the new study will not be any more accurate than the first because it focuses on repairs where the vehicle owner already suspects something is wrong with his car and asks BAR to inspect it (minimum repair of $2,500). Mr. Trent addressed the concerns by saying, "The point of the inspections is to flush out the bad guys, not to prosecute a shop for some occasional oversight. We want the guys whose intent at the outset is to defraud the customer." The investigators are looking for more than the simple occasional mistake on an invoice. They want the repeat offenders. "When we find a pattern of fraudulent activities, then we will prosecute." said Bill Neu.{mosimage}

When fraud is found, the investigators can take three routes of action: administrative, civil, and criminal. BAR handles administrative actions itself, taking away the registration of the offending shop. This is usually the first step taken. If problems persist, civil fines can be enforced. This usually happens with larger shops or chains that have the money to pay big fines.

Lastly, the district attorney or the attorney general can become involved in filing criminal charges against the shop owners. According to the investigators, criminal charges are the last resort but sometimes they are the only measure that will work.

Neu assured CAA members that "We're not out there to put anybody in jail. You always get warnings. Putting somebody away is a lot of work, and we prefer to take the path of least resistance and less work." Both Trent and Neu commented on the excessive amount of time it takes for an investigation - up to six months to revoke a registration, a year for civil fines, and more than two years for a criminal investigation and trial.

Neu noted that Oceanside and most BAR field offices have very limited resources for inspecting auto body shops, and that the insurance companies are capable of carrying out far more inspections than BAR. The same law that is responsible for the BAR inspection program also requires insurance companies to have in place their own inspection programs to detect fraud.