Police in Italy have arrested 34 individuals in connection with a so-called “bone-breaking scam,” an insurance con in which criminals would break the bones of homeless or other marginalized people and split the payout with them.
As The Guardian reported in 2017, the city of Palermo and the region around it have long been bedeviled by organized crime. And now, according to BBC News, in addition to drug-smuggling, extortion rackets, and other illegal schemes, it seems as if the criminals have settled on a new means of menacing their communities: bone-breaking scams.
Police say that the gangsters would target homeless people, drug addicts, the mentally ill, and other people marginalized by society for the scam. Such people made easy targets: they’re often desperate for money, aren’t afraid to break the law in order to get it, are easily intimidated, and are unlikely to report being victims of a crime. The gangsters would then break the bones of the victims and split the insurance payout with them.
Just because the victims were reportedly in the scam doesn’t make its execution any less horrible, however.
WARNING: The next paragraph contains content that may be disturbing to some readers.
Authorities say that the criminals would take the participants to “houses of horror,” where they would be given anesthesia and then have their limbs placed on concrete blocks. They would then be beaten with large stones, or with bags of weights, until their bones broke.
Police were alerted to the scam when one severely-beaten individual finally had the courage to speak up.
Breaking bones was only the beginning. The group also staged auto accidents, careful to do them at intersections where there were no surveillance cameras. The crooks would then take the victims to the hospital, pretending to be family members, then collect insurance payouts.
And as to those insurance payouts, the criminals would allegedly pay the victims only a few hundred euros, while they collected thousands.
All told, the scheme is believed to have brought in around €2 million (roughly $2.26 million) per year.
It wasn’t just gangsters that were among the 34 people arrested. Also caught up in the criminal enterprise were doctors and other medical personnel who submitted fake medical reports, as well as the lawyer representing the victims in their insurance claims.
At least one of the crimes in this alleged scam isn’t limited to Italy. Staged auto accidents for the purpose of defrauding insurance companies are a problem in the United States as well. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud reports that such crimes raise the insurance rates of policyholders across the country, and that the accidents themselves can sometimes go awry and be fatal.