Fraudsters are risking the lives of motorists in a “Crash for Cash” scam that is costing UK insurance companies almost £400 million a year, according to a new report.
Traffic accidents are being deliberately orchestrated by criminals in order to make money from fraudulent insurance claims. This is not only putting innocent lives at risk, it is also pushing up honest policyholders’ insurance premiums as insurance companies offset the extra costs to customers.
Each accident can cost the insurance company up to £30,000 for vehicle damage and recovery, vehicle storage, injury to the fraudulent driver and any passengers, loss of earnings and car hire charges.
What is Crash for Cash?
Crash for Cash is a national scam, involving a number of different scenarios for the unsuspecting victims. First, the driver of the car in front slams on their brakes for no reason, doing an emergency stop and giving the car behind no chance to avoid a collision.
Often, the fraudulent driver has disabled their own vehicle’s brake lights to make sure the driver behind has no warning at all that they are stopping. This is called an induced accident.
A common place for this to happen is on the approach to a pedestrian crossing. Even if there are no pedestrians in sight, the fraudulent driver will slam on their brakes at the crossing and will later claim they saw someone about to cross the road. When there’s no CCTV and witnesses, it’s your word against theirs.
A second scenario is a staged accident, when two fraudsters deliberately crash their vehicles into each other and then each makes a false claim on their insurance. A third scenario occurs when a fraudster submits a completely false claim for an accident that never even happened – this is known as a ghost accident.
It’s not uncommon for the criminals to hit their cars with a sledgehammer, so it looks like they’ve been in a bad crash. They insist it’s their victim’s fault and exchange names, addresses and insurance details.
Subsequently, the victim will receive word from their insurer that a claim has been submitted against them. It will normally be exaggerated, including the costs of injuries to the driver and passengers (usually whiplash injuries) that never happened.
What are the dangers of Crash for Cash?
The Insurance Fraud Bureau says many of the crashes are being staged by organised gangs, who are using the profits to fund other crimes, such as drug smuggling and illegal firearms.
In terms of physical injury, the hazards are immense, with the victims facing potentially serious injuries and even fatalities in the event of a major crash. The induced accidents are most likely to put other motorists at risk, with the criminals often targeting the most vulnerable members of society.
Commonly, victims are mothers with children in their car, or elderly motorists, who are targeted because they are seen as “easy prey”. They are not only at risk of suffering physical injury, but also the trauma and emotional stress of a car accident. The drivers of white vans are also targeted, as the fraudsters know they are likely to be driving a works vehicle and will definitely have insurance cover.
How do you identify a Crash for Cash scam?
Unfortunately, it can be hard to identify a potential scam when you’re driving and concentrating on the road ahead. The RAC advises motorists to remain alert and aware of other cars around them. Look out for vehicles travelling unusually slowly, or those that are speeding up and slowing down for no reason. Keep an eye out for cars that already have signs of damage to their rear.
If you’re driving in heavy traffic behind another vehicle – in particular one with a driver exhibiting any of these behaviours – always keep your distance, so that if they braked suddenly, you will able to stop before hitting them. If there’s a car in front of you, try to determine whether their brake lights are working or not.
In law, it’s usually presumed that when one vehicle shunts into the back of another, the driver of the car in the rear is at fault. They are normally liable for any damage and injuries caused by the collision, on the basis they were driving too close to the car in front. This presumption of liability is the basis of the Crash for Cash claim.
Although this can be harder to spot, if you’re stuck in heavy traffic and you see any drivers or their passengers behaving oddly in any manner, such as paying particular attention to another vehicle, keep your distance, as it could be a sign they are plotting an accident.
What to do if you think you’re a victim
It can be hard to prove that an accident was Crash for Cash, but if you think you’ve fallen prey to a scam, take immediate action. The AA has issued a list of recommendations, including never admitting liability at the scene – and if the other driver insists it was your fault, challenging their opinion.
Take photographs at the scene before the other driver moves their vehicle and make a note of what happened and what was said. It’s always useful to carry pen and notebook in your glove compartment in case you need them.
Check for independent witnesses and ask for their contact details. Be careful, however, if they seem to be chatting to the other driver, as they may have been “planted”. Call the police and notify your insurer of your suspicions as soon as possible.
If the fraudulent driver’s claim is dismissed and the victim has suffered any personal injury as a result of a staged accident, then the victim can rightfully pursue a claim for personal injury through their own insurer.
What is being done to combat Crash for Cash scams?
The Insurance Fraud Bureau has been tackling organised fraud since 2006, disrupting the criminal gangs and protecting innocent people from the effects of fraud. The Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department was set up in 2012 to particularly target motor insurance scams.
They have released a report, Putting the Brakes on Fraud, detailing their ongoing efforts to stop the scammers. The bureau is dispelling the myth that these are “victimless” crimes, as even if nobody is injured, the victims are the thousands of innocent motorists, whose premiums are being pushed up by as much as £50 a year to cover the costs of fraudulent claims.
Working closely with the Association of British Insurers and many insurance companies, the bureau is running a high profile campaign to change public perception of insurance fraud as being a crime where there’s little chance of being caught.
At any one time, the bureau is investigating £12 million of insurance fraud in the UK and in one year alone, almost 250 arrests were made after referrals from 50 insurers, with several custodial sentences secured for fraudsters.
In addition, the police Crimestoppers initiative has set up Cheatline, so that people can report Crash for Cash scams anonymously on 0800 422 0421, or via an online form.
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