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National insurance fraud hotline is working

A month-old insurance fraud hotline has already received more than 2,200 calls alleging questionable activity, including a ring of chiropractors believed to have filed thousands in fraudulent claims, a spokesman says.

No arrests have been made, but investigators are following leads on cases around the country thanks to the toll-free hotline, said John Maes, spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

The bureau, an industry trade association, was formed last month as part of an effort by insurers to eliminate what they contend is $17-billion a year in fraudulent and inflated claims.

The hotline began receiving calls Jan. 7 and had logged 2,252 by the middle of last week.

Of those, 10 percent to 15 percent "have led to some sort of active investigative followup," Maes said last week from bureau headquarters in suburban Palos Hills.

The other calls had information that was too sketchy or involved "somebody who wanted to tattle on a neighbor or be vindictive," he said. "We try to weed that out as soon as we can."

Once a legitimate call is received, it is turned over to one of the bureau's three regional offices _ Chicago, Atlanta and Glendora, Calif., near Los Angeles.

Bureau investigators _ many of them are former law enforcement officers _ then try to determine if fraud is taking place, Maes said. Cases will be turned over to local law enforcement agencies if fraud is found.

"If something like this does get off the ground, it would be an effective tool for communities to utilize," said John Hoos, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles.

Maes said many calls are anonymous reports of isolated instances of fraud, "like reporting that someone who's supposed to be on worker's compensation disability was seen chopping down a tree with a chain saw."

"One case that was particularly interesting that we're going to take a very close look at involves an attorney who has been in league with some chiropractors and they would be responsible for hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical claims and legal bills resulting from auto accidents," he said.

Maes said the alleged ring operates in a southern state and was reported by another lawyer, but he declined to provide more details because the case remains under investigation.

"We're dealing with an enormous problem," Maes said. "But we certainly hope that arrests will result and convictions and prosecutions will result. That's our primary purpose in running the program."

Where to call

The national insurance fraud hotline, 1-800-TEL-NICB, is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. EST, Monday through Friday.