Criminals are stealing accident replacement hire cars by using stolen identities obtained on the dark web.
The latest case saw fraudsters using stolen identities – offered for sale on the dark web – to report a collision between a Mercedes S-Class and a Range Rover Evoque in South East London.
After securing a high value replacement car, the thieves crossed the border and took it to Brussels.
The stolen vehicle was recovered after a cross-border investigation triggered by an alert from its telematics device as it approached the Channel Tunnel.
APU Ltd, part of the Accident Exchange Group, moved to track down the driver and vehicle because in most cases permission to travel abroad is required. However, the vehicle was already in Brussels, and efforts to contact the person believed to have hired the replacement vehicle failed.
Neil Thomas, Director of Investigative Services at APU Ltd, said: “Timing is everything and the decision to intervene or wait could be the difference between getting the vehicle back and never seeing it again. Our assessment was that the vehicle had been stolen and that we could be dealing with fraudsters.”
It was discovered that the vehicle driver had disabled the inbuilt telematics system and tracker, leaving only APU’s secondary technology in place, but this allowed APU to pinpoint the vehicle to a residential address in Ghent.
Meanwhile the field-based team discovered that the man thought to have hired the vehicle was completely unaware of the unfolding drama, so the car was seized by APU and brought back to the UK.
Both drivers alleged to have been involved in the original collision had now been contacted and ruled out as potential suspects of the vehicle theft. They were in fact victims of fraud.
The dark web is fuelling a surge in organised crime involving identity theft and insurance fraud according to anti-fraud experts, APU Ltd.
It presents a huge challenge to law enforcement agencies as it is primarily a marketplace for illicit activities where there are no rules or safeguards and almost anything can be traded including people, identities and drugs with little chance of being caught.
“Our team discovered that the identities were stolen and offered for sale on the dark web – they were unaware of the accident and the ensuing investigation. The dark web is a gift to fraudsters; they can buy the personal details of innocent people, take out insurance policies and come up with scams like this. We must raise awareness of the threat among the public and industry,” Thomas added.
“It can be an absolute nightmare for the victims, who then have to prove their innocence and can potentially have ongoing issues accessing credit or insurance products.”
Providing replacement vehicles following a collision, the Accident Exchange Group remains vigilant to the changing face of fraud. It is committed to educating staff to spot the signs of fraud, and has seen a 25% rise in the number of hires referred to its fraud team for expert analysis, enabling it to spot the latest tactics employed by fraudsters.