Insurance fraud probably isn’t something you think much about, but it’s increasing in South Carolina, and it’s costing you and your family money.

It also could be putting your family in danger, because the cars in front of you might be about to stage an auto accident.

I recently released to the General Assembly our Insurance Fraud Division’s annual report, and it shows an 18 percent increase in insurance fraud in South Carolina. My office continues to fight this crime, but the numbers show that our state needs to devote more resources to that fight.

This is not a one-year increase in cases. We’ve seen a steady increase in the number of insurance fraud complaints almost every year. For comparison, in 2010, South Carolina had 596 complaints compared to 2,957 last year.

Our goal is to bring perpetrators of insurance fraud to justice, but it’s also to protect South Carolina citizens by asking our courts to order that restitution be paid. When insurance fraud happens, it costs all of us in higher insurance rates.

Although our state ranks 23rd in population, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, we currently rank 10th in the nation for staged car wrecks and 14th for complaints of suspected insurance fraud. That makes our highways even more dangerous than they otherwise would be.

In many cases, individuals committing insurance fraud pack vehicles full of passengers to maximize their claim value. In some cases, they’ll even put young children in the vehicles. Those individuals use emergency services, which takes our first responders away from those who are truly in emergency situations.

Staged auto accidents are the No. 1 complaint we handle. Last year, 73 percent of the cases we investigated and prosecuted were automobiles, 15 percent involved personal or commercial insurance, 3 percent were Worker’s Compensation fraud, 3 percent were health/medical, 2 percent were insurance premium fraud, 1 percent were about life insurance, less than 1 percent were for fraudulent disability claims, less than 1 percent were for unemployment fraud and 3 percent were “other.”

The NICB numbers also tell us that South Carolina ranks 50th for funding to investigate and prosecute insurance fraud. Our Insurance Fraud Division prepares and prosecutes the cases with four full-time investigators from the State Law Enforcement Division to handle the 2,957 complaints we got last year.

In 2018, South Carolina had $97,590 in restitution ordered and had 39 convictions. Our Insurance Fraud Division’s budget is $400,000. By comparison, our neighbor North Carolina has a budget of more than $3 million with more than 30 investigators, two prosecutors dedicated to insurance fraud and a criminal analyst for their division. North Carolina also recovered $5.3 million in restitution and had 211 convictions in 2018.

Fraud and crime travel the path of least resistance. South Carolina should not be a place where criminals are able to succeed. Insurance fraud drains our systems, wastes resources and raises premiums for all of our citizens. Our office understands how big the problem is, and we will continue to work to make sure that the state of South Carolina is the safest place possible to live, work and raise a family.

Alan Wilson is South Carolina’s attorney general.