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By Susan Clarke
What is an airbag? Well, it depends on your point of view.
If you are a typical consumer, an airbag is simply an auto safety device; if you are less than honest, an airbag is an opportunity to defraud. And since airbags were introduced several years ago, a number of different schemes have “popped out,” pointing up, once again, the ingenuity of the fraud perpetrator.
One of the fastest growing schemes in stolen auto parts involves airbags. For the convenience of auto mechanics, the bags are made to be easily removable. After all, once they have done their job, the bags must be replaced. Thieves have discovered that they can net anywhere from $360 to $1,800 per unit, depending on the make of the vehicle, for only a few minutes work. The bags are quickly removed and sold to body shops. The shops then use the airbags as replacement parts, neatly sidestepping the usual high cost.
A second up-and-coming scam is employed by other unscrupulous body shops. These shops keep a stock of exploded airbags on hand. The shop uses an exploded bag to replace the unexploded bag from a car that has been towed in for repair, claiming the car’s airbag was deployed in the accident. Once the claim has been approved, the original unpopped bag is replaced and the popped bag is returned to the shelf, ready to use should another opportunity arise.
A third airbag scam involves using inappropriate replacement parts. Airbags are designed to be compatible with the size and weight of the car. Some shops simply replace deployed airbags with whatever type is available, resulting in the use of a bag that is either too heavy or too light for the car.
And the most dangerous of the scams use technology to defeat technology. Part of the airbag system involves a computer chip that senses whether the bag is in place and if it has been deployed. But computer chips that can fool the system can be purchased from various electronic outlets. After one of these is installed in a car, the driver may go about his business, blissfully unaware that he is driving without the protection of the airbag.
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