One sheriff's investigator says people who normally wouldn't steal a piece of candy but are driven to desperation have been reporting their cars stolen to cash in on the insurance.
A growing number of financially strapped car owners are torching, sinking or ditching their vehicles in a practice known as owner giveups.
Losses have been concentrated in regions hit hard by the economic meltdown.
SUVs have been found ablaze in Nevada, cars have been dumped in a Miami canal and a BMW was discovered buried in a field in Texas.
Authorities say most of the false claims are filed by first-time offenders looking for a quick financial fix without regard for consequences.
Experts say the insurance losses are recouped from honest consumers as premium increases.