Tuesday 22 January 2019

Insurers in crackdown on injury fraudsters

Social media posts and witness interviews key to exposing scams

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Stock picture
Charlie Weston

Charlie Weston

Insurers are increasingly challenging injuries claims they suspect are false, using social media and interviews with witnesses to catch out scammers.

In the past few weeks Aviva and Axa, in particular, have been successful in providing evidence in court that has seen cases taken by chancers thrown out. A case defended by Aviva last week resulted in three scammers being warned by a judge of the Garda's intention to set up a special squad to investigate fraudulent claims over traffic accidents.

The warning was issued by Judge Jacqueline Linnane in the Circuit Civil Court after she threw out three claims for a total of €180,000 damages for personal injuries allegedly suffered by three men in a rear-ending incident on July 6, 2016.

Axa was the insurer in a case where a cage fighter who claims he "sustained severe personal injury" from a car accident withdrew from his €60,000 damages fight in the Circuit Civil Court. The MMA fighter also walked away almost cashless from another case. Axa had prepared video material of a martial arts fight between claimant David Roche and another fighter which was due to be played in court.

Investigations and fraud manager at Aviva Insurance Rob Smyth said his company has 33 people dedicated to fraud detection. The former Garda superintendent said social media was useful for gathering evidence on suspect claims, but his team putting boots on the ground and interviewing witnesses often proves more effective at detecting false claims.

He reckons up to one in 10 claims is false, and his company detects many of these.

"Yes social media is important but one of the biggest ways of tackling the problem is early detection by interviewing witnesses."

Mr Smyth said this made fraudsters realise that there was more to a claim than just ringing an insurer and making out they are injured.

He said the planned Garda insurance fraud unit was likely to change mindsets around fraudulent claims.

Gardaí did not currently have the resources to go after chancers found in court to be lying for cash, he said.

Part of the problem is that a fraudulent case may not come to court for years after the alleged incident.

Axa's head of fraud investigations Colm Featherstone said his company had seen 40 cases it contested dismissed and withdrawn this year alone.

"We are noticing that the dismissal of cases we are fighting are up in the last two years because insurance companies are taking a harder stance on fraud."

Peter Boland, of the Alliance for Insurance Reform lobby group, said insurers had been successful lately in having fraudster cases thrown out of court. "They are starting to do more, but we would like to see them doing more."

Mr Boland, whose group represents businesses and charities hit with massive premium hikes, said the problem was cases exposed as fraudulent in court end up "disappearing into a black hole" after the cases are dismissed. He referenced Insurance Ireland, the insurance lobby group, which said lately its members had reported 167 fraudulent cases to gardaí but had heard nothing back on these.

A Garda spokesperson denied it was failing to investigate insurance fraud complaints.

Irish Independent

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