LOS ANGELES (CNS) - State and local law enforcement officials today  warned motorists to be alert for staged collisions that target unaware drivers  in an effort to defraud insurance companies.

``Los Angeles County has the dubious distinction of being the state's  epicenter for auto insurance fraud,'' District Attorney Jackie Lacey said.  ``The impact of that fraud on working families in Los Angeles County is real  and substantial.''

Lacey and state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones took part in a news  conference to highlight to problem of staged collisions, with police providing  a demonstration of how the fraud is carried out. The most common, officials  said, was known as a ``swoop-and-squat,'' in which the drivers of two other  vehicles work together to box in an unsuspecting motorist and force a  collision, often with the lead vehicle braking suddenly.

Participants in such operations are often connected with organized crime  and generally target luxury or government-owned vehicles, since they are most  likely to be insured, authorities said.

According to the state Department of Insurance, Los Angeles County  accounts for nearly 43 percent of all auto-related insurance fraud in  California.

Jones said his office is working to crack down on fraud, saying the  department helped prevent $143 million in auto-insurance fraud claims last  year.

Anyone who believes they may have been the victim of insurance fraud was  urged to contact the state at (800) 927-4357 or online at www.insurance.ca.gov.