'Ghost brokers' sell worthless policies for €300 that leave drivers with no insurance
Insurance scammers leave drivers in the lurch
Ruthless fraudsters are selling fake motor insurance policies to unsuspecting motorists.
They are charging up to €300 to people and then leaving the drivers with no cover.
The new breed of "insurance sharks" is operating online and in pop-up shops, the Irish Independent has learned.
A number of reports have now been made to the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau by insurers about the scam.
It is understood hundreds of fake policies have been issued, promising discount cover with a range of well-known insurers. Insurer Liberty has warned about the growing problem.
The fraudsters pose as legitimate middlemen, claiming they can cut insurance costs.
However, they are not regulated by the Central Bank and often operate from home addresses using mobile phone numbers.
They are preying on younger drivers and foreign nationals who may not be familiar with the insurance market. They offer discounted policies which seem appealing.
Known as 'ghost brokers', the con artists are exploiting the fact that the cost of the average motor premium has shot up by almost 60pc in the last year.
Some drivers are seeing even higher increases than this, even though there has been some slowdown in overall premiums lately.
Liberty Insurance director of personal lines Deirdre Ashe said it was a huge worry that the problem of ghost brokers was beginning to emerge in Ireland.
"It has been a significant problem in the UK for a number of years and is now becoming more prevalent in Ireland," she said.
She said the insurance scam must be aggressively tackled to minimise its impact on innocent motorists.
Ms Ashe said that if consumers require advice, they should engage the services of an insurance intermediary, or ask their insurer directly for clarification.
Fraudulent policies are sold by the ghost brokers buying cover from a legitimate insurer by using false information, and then selling that on to a motorist for cash. They also use fake policy documents, especially insurance discs, and sell these on to innocent drivers.
In some cases the fraudsters are charging fees of up to €300 for securing the insurance policies, and demand payment in cash.
They operate online or in pop-up offices, or from a residential address.
A fraudulent policy is invalid, which means consumers are actually driving illegally even though they think they are insured.
They will be unable to make a claim, and face huge bills if they are responsible for an accident.
A spokesperson for the Central Bank said it would encourage anyone intending to engage with a financial firm to check its online register to ensure that the firm is authorised.
"Whenever we are aware of unauthorised firms in operation, we issue a public warning notice and refer the firm to gardaí.
"To date, almost 300 unauthorised firms have been the subject of Central Bank warning notices," it said.
Drivers are under huge pressure from the high price of premiums, with the Central Statistics Office showing that they had been rising for two-and-a-half years.
They finally dropped slightly last April, at 2.6pc lower than a year earlier.
The last time motor insurance fell before that was in December 2013.