How To Avoid Becoming A Victim Of A Crash-for-cash Scam
You’ll have heard about them on the news, or from someone at work who’s been caught out by one - crash for cash scams. They involve motorists deliberately causing an accident - often through unexpected braking - in order to claim off your insurance. The proceeds are then often directed into other channels for criminal purposes, such as drug trafficking. With such scams costing the UK around £340m each year, it’s no wonder reports of them have been steadily on the increase for the last decade or so.
The usual scenario is that you’ll be driving behind someone who suddenly and inexplicably slams on their brakes in front of you, giving you no time to react and meaning you end up driving into the back of them. They then blame you, give you their insurance details, and in a week or two your insurance company will have a claim to deal with which involves all manner of costs and expenses on behalf of the ‘victim’.
Alternative methods, such as flash-for-cash (where someone will flash their lights to let you out at a junction, and then deliberately drive into you), ghost claims (when no accident has occurred, and fraudsters simply submit a claim saying it has), and pulling risky manoeuvres (like making a turn without indicating, causing you to brake sharply and often leading to an accident with the driver behind you), have also been reported.
So how on earth can honest, law-abiding drivers avoid getting scammed in such a dangerous way?
Look out for suspicious behaviour
Beware of drivers who are acting suspiciously - perhaps driving erratically, and especially if they keep looking at the vehicle behind, as that can often be a sign that they might be sizing up a potential victim. Keep a safe distance from the car in front to ensure you have enough braking space, and adapt that space to suit the driving conditions.
If an incident does occur, most victims will be shocked and a little surprised. Scammers, on the other hand, will be used to it and will be cool and collected - unless they play the irate driver - and when you exchange insurance details they’ll have them to hand quickly, possibly pre-prepared. No normal driver anticipates needing their insurance details copied out in case of an accident - so that’s a sure sign something’s not right.
Don’t be the ideal victim
Scammers will look for people who are likely to have insurance, but who will also be easy to intimidate or worry. Mothers of young children and the elderly are the most common targets. If you fall into either of these categories, there’s no need to worry, but be fully aware of potential scams and don’t let yourself be bullied into anything.
Take extra care in scam hotspots
Certain areas of the UK - often in and around large cities - are crash for cash hotspots. London has escaped being included in the ranks, largely due to the relatively low number of cars within the city sprawl, as well as the excessive number of cameras in place to monitor traffic and capture footage of incidents. Areas within and around Birmingham and Manchester fare worst - for a full list of ‘high risk’ postcodes, check out this crash for cash blog at Compare Van Insurance.
When driving in these areas, make sure you’re not distracted by radio or conversation, and keep your full concentration on the road. A high volume of traffic means giving yourself enough space to brake is even more important on congested urban roads.
Invest in a dash cam
One of the best ways to avoid being caught out is to purchase a dash cam. These record events through your windscreen (and rear window too, if you so choose) so that any accidents will be recorded on video and can be submitted to insurers or even the police as evidence.
In the event of a crash, we don’t recommend telling the other party you have a dash cam, since if they are out to scam you this may make them panic and do either you or the camera damage to cover their tracks. However, do make sure you watch and save any recordings as soon as possible after the event, in case they’re needed.
For more information on dash cams, Which magazine has a comprehensive features guide, and from there you can use the Dash Cam Selector from Halfords to help you pick the right make and model for your needs.
Don’t assume it’s safe to manoeuvre
As mentioned above with flash-for-cash scams, some people will try to trick you into committing to a manoeuvre in the belief that it’s safe when in fact it’s not. Even if someone flashes to let you go (an action which is not endorsed by the Highway Code, in any case) don’t assume it’s safe to pull out - always use your own discretion and judgement.
What if you’ve already been scammed?
If an incident has happened, and you don’t believe you are at fault, then first of all don’t admit liability. Swap insurance details with the other party but refuse to be drawn into a tit-for-tat argument over who was to blame. You should also insist on calling the police as many car crashes require police presence. This will often deter would-be scammers.
If at all possible, take photos of the crash scene. To avoid panicking a scammer, try to do this discreetly. Even if you have a dash cam, additional photos or footage can support your claim, especially if you can get photos of who was in the vehicle - it’s surprising how many people claim for a carful of passengers when in fact they were driving alone.
Jot down a description as soon as possible of what happened and who was involved. Include descriptions of people and registration plates of vehicles. Speak to passengers and witnesses to get further evidence - though it’s worth being aware that some scammers will plant witnesses in order to give more credence to their version of events.
You should also report the incident - and your suspicions - to your insurance company as soon as possible. Furthermore, you can contact the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) online or by calling 0800 422 0421.
Is this type of scam likely to stop?
Fantastic progress has been made by police forces around the country, in conjunction with the IFB, to catch gangs who engage in crash for cash scams. In 2017, a ring of 87 participants was uncovered and brought to justice, and in June 2018 a further 77 people based in Wales were jailed for their involvement in a systematic scamming enterprise, so steps are being taken to actively seek out and stop this kind of criminal activity.
The sad fact is, though, that there are always more people out there prepared to take advantage of other road users. Until the kinds of driverless technologies being developed by Google, Tesla and others come to full fruition, such scams are likely to continue to occur.