Chinese officials have arrested seven people for staging road accidents to claim insurance payouts by using recently deceased cancer patients. In this photo, an electric bicycle stops among cars while waiting at a traffic light on a hazy day in Xiangyang, Hubei province on Jan. 16, 2015. Reuters

SHANGHAI -- Three doctors in eastern China’s Anhui province were among seven people arrested on charges of faking car crashes to claim life insurance payouts -- for patients who had already died of cancer.

A report by the online edition of China’s People’s Daily newspaper said police were tipped off to the case when local insurance companies became suspicious, following repeated payouts for car-crash victims in Anhui’s rural Lingbi County.

Subsequent police investigations revealed that a 46-year-old local man, surnamed Yang, had repeatedly taken out large accidental death insurance policies in the name of local villagers who were suffering from terminal cancer. Yang was reported to have been tipped off to the villagers’ poor health by the head of the county hospital’s medical insurance department.

Whenever one of these patients died of cancer, the report said, Yang would immediately spring into action. The next day, two of his nephews and another relative would use their cars and electric bicycles to stage a road accident, from which the body of the recently deceased cancer patient would be retrieved and sent to the county hospital’s emergency room for “treatment.” Two other doctors who were in on the scam would then pronounce the patient dead, and write a false medical report giving the car crash as the cause of death.

Yang and his wife would then claim insurance payments from more than 10 companies in the nearby cities of Bengbu and Suzhou, where he had taken out the policies.

The report said that Yang and his associates had staged 42 car crashes in this way -- and had received insurance payouts totaling 1.6 million yuan (around $260,000) over four years, with similar amounts still due to be paid.

However they were found out when police investigations revealed that the medical records of one of the car crash ‘victims’ showed that he had actually been pronounced dead from cancer the day before the alleged accident. Police are still carrying out further investigations into the case, the report added.

Road insurance scams are not unprecedented in China. In one case in 2013, a man in the southern city of Shenzhen was arrested after crashing his car every three days for three years in order to claim on his insurance.

The sheer frequency of accidents on Chinese roads may make it less likely that such scams will be immediately detected, however. According to official Chinese statistics, around 87,000 people died on China’s roads in the first 10 months of last year -- though the World Health Organization said this month that the total number of deaths resulting from road accidents in China last year was at least 200,000 -- or more than 500 a day.