Cash for crash convictions in two high-profile cases have highlighted the threat fleets face from fraudsters willing to risk the lives of others for financial gain.
In what police describe as a landmark case, three men who deliberately caused a car crash that led to another collision in which a woman died were sentenced to 10 years each. It was the first time that somebody had been killed as a result of a crash for cash scam.
The fraudsters had been planning to make a personal injury claim in connection with a staged crash on the A40 in Buckinghamshire.
Sgt James Upton, from the Thames Valley Police road death investigation team, said: “The crash for cash culture has become more prevalent in our society, but this is the first known fatality as a result of an induced crash.”
In the second crash for cash case to be sentenced in recent weeks, a fraudster was jailed for 12 months for conspiracy to defraud and dan-gerous driving after targeting a commercial vehicle.
CCTV footage from the HGV’s in-cabin camera, supplied by Towergate Insurance, helped to expose the scam. It showed a black Volkswagen Golf working in tandem with a blue Mercedes-Benz to induce the crash.
The Golf – a decoy car – braked hard and late to turn into a side road; the Mercedes-Benz that is following then performed an emergency stop, which caused a rear-end shunt by the HGV. The video can viewed below;
Towergate Insurance, the HGV’s insurer, referred the case and CCTV footage to the police. The investigation linked members of the criminal gang to induced crashes in Bedfordshire and also identified an associated claims management company, which has since ceased trading.
It’s a lucrative business; the annual cost of crash for cash fraud to the insurance industry is estimated to be £392 million, of which almost £100m involves commercial policies. One in seven personal injury claims are linked to suspected scams.
Fraudsters will either approach a junction, roundabout or intersection and then suddenly jam on the brakes leading to a rear-end collision, or use a ‘no-stop’ vehicle driven erratically by one gang member to cause a car driven by another gang member to break violently immediately in front of a vehicle, leading to a rear-end collision.
After the accident, the criminals claim compensation, often with the help of bogus witnesses and other parties that might be involved in the scam, for injuries, vehicle damage, replacement vehicle hire, loss of earnings and other costs. A scam can typically net the criminals £20,000 to £40,000.
However, fleets that fall victim to a scam face a hike in premiums, costly repairs and vehicle downtime, let alone the trauma of dealing with an accident that could have serious consequences for its driver.
It’s a growing problem and Larry Smith, managing director of Towergate Insurance motor division, told Fleet News that without the footage, it would have been very difficult for its client to prove it had been involved in a crash for cash scam.
Cameras typically record on a loop on an SD card, but will save data if triggered by a G-force event, such as a collision.
The more sophisticated units can cost from £200 to £300, with fleets discounts available, but there are also smartphone applications available for less than £1.
Zurich recognises that installing a camera can help in establishing liability and reducing fraud, but it says there are additional benefits that can be gained from this technology if these are linked to driver behaviour telemetry systems.
A spokesman explained: “The organisation would get alerts, with video footage, whenever the camera is activated due to a harsh manoeuvre.”
Fleets can then work with the driver to understand the underlying root causes and put the appropriate measures in place to prevent them happening in the future.
Suspect a crash for cash scheme?
- Stay calm, think clearly and, as with any accident, don’t admit liability
- If a ‘no-stop’ vehicle is involved, try to get its registration number – or at least a brief description
- Call the police and if there’s the slightest indication of injury, call an ambulance as well
- Use a disposable camera or your mobile phone to photograph the immediate scene, road markings and damage to the car involved
- Count the number of occupants in the car, get their names, addresses an dates of birth and make a note of where they were sitting in the car
- Look for independent witnesses – avoid anyone who’s too enthusiastic, though they might be in on the scam
- Look for CCTV cameras in the vicinity and tell your insurer
- Call the confidential Insurance Fraud Bureau Cheatline on 0800 4220421 with any information you feel may be relevant