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Damaras Gatihi was driving along Interstate 5 near Seattle in 2003, when her car was bumped from behind. Her Toyota Corolla spun around and hit another vehicle head-on. The 50-year-old nursing assistant’s airbag did not open. A shady repair shop had removed her airbag and inserted a plastic cover over the empty cavity. Her body hit the steering column so hard that the column buckled. In a tragic irony, Gatihi died from massive bleeding of the heart: it was Valentine’s Day.

Airbag fraud is an expensive problem for auto insurers. It also is a deadly public-safety threat that endangers the lives of drivers and passengers when dishonest body shops meddle with vehicles’ airbags to make illicit profit at insurance companies’ expense.

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