Criminals who stage fake accidents are costing motorists hundreds of millions of pounds every year in insurance. We explain how to steer clear.
So-called "crash for cash" cons cost motorists almost £400 million a year.
This is according to the industry-backed Insurance Fraud Bureau which has estimated the total cost of claims and related expenses.
Honest motorists lose out
And it is honest motorists who have to foot the bill for this crime in the form of higher car insurance premiums.
There are three main types of accident-related fraud, explains car insurance provider Zurich.
Each of these frauds is based on deliberate or invented collisions and the exaggerated or fictitious claims which result.
The first is an induced incident, according to Kat Scott, intelligence team leader at Zurich.
Accidents caused deliberately
"The perpetrator will set out knowing that they’re going to induce a road traffic collision with an innocent victim," Scott says.
"This might be on a roundabout, where they might slam on the brakes.
"Or it might be in unison with another vehicle, sometimes referred to as a decoy or stooge vehicle.
"The sudden braking will cause the vehicle behind the stooge to slam on the brakes and results in an innocent victim crashing into them."
Scott says that crash for cash fraud falls into this category, as does a linked scam known as flash for cash.
'Flash for cash' fraud
In a "flash for cash" fraud, the criminal flashes their lights to allow another driver to pull out into traffic, only to speed up and cause a collision.
Their victim is then blamed for the accident.
The second type of con is a staged accident, in which everyone involved is in on the con.
Scott says: "In a staged accident, both parties are generally complicit and typically damage will be manufactured.
Staged or imaginary collisions
"Two vehicles will be collided in similar circumstances to those being reported, but often the damage isn’t consistent with the story."
But in the third type of fraudulent accident, no collision actually takes place.
"Finally there’s a contrived incident, which is completely paper-based and won’t have happened at all," Scott explains.
"Someone might see a damaged car that’s been involved in an accident, take a picture of it and then claim that that car caused damage to theirs."
New bus crash scam
Criminals are increasingly causing accidents with buses, Scott adds.
"What we have seen is people taking out a hired car with an insurance policy and inducing road accidents with a bus," she says.
"A typical example is where they brake suddenly in front or drive into the rear of the vehicle.
"Through intelligence research and claimant profiling, we may find links between a driver and parties on the bus."
When investigators look into claims that may have resulted from fraudulent accidents, there are a number of indicators that can increase suspicion.
Crashes that raise suspicion
- The other party stopped for no reason, or otherwise appeared to cause the accident deliberately.
- There were three or more adults in either vehicle. Criminals put more people in their cars in order to make more claims for personal injury.
- They often even claim for "ghost" passengers who weren’t present.
- If the accident occurred late at night or in the early hours – usually between 10pm and 6am – when there are likely to be fewer witnesses to dispute the fraudsters’ version of events.
- The other driver provided a pre-written note with vehicle and policy details at the scene of the collision.
Scott adds: "These scams have become lucrative moneymaking schemes for criminals, as it is hard to prove what actually occurred.
Your word versus theirs
"It almost always comes down to the word of the innocent driver against the criminal, who is also able to extract cash from a claim in a variety of ways."
This includes, says Scott, "fake whiplash injuries, loss of earnings, ghost passengers, and vehicle damage repairs".
Zurich says that, to guard against possible fraud, anyone involved in a car accident should take photos if possible, and write a report of what happened afterwards.
A record should be taken of the other vehicle’s passengers, and details of any witnesses should also be collected.
Read: How to make a car insurance claim.
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