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Crash for cash insurance fraud

Avoid becoming a victim of fraudsters

Car insurance fraud costs all honest policy holders something like £50 on every annual premium.

It's not just a financial crime either – in the case of so called 'crash for cash', or the more recent similar phenomenon ‘flash for cash', fraudsters target innocent motorists, putting their lives at risk.

They deliberately cause accidents with the intention of making as much money as possible. The proceeds of subsequent fraudulent and exaggerated insurance claims for vehicle damage, personal injury, and other 'costs' resulting from the 'accident' are used to fund other, often more serious crimes.

Cash for cash costs £392 million every year

The Insurance Fraud Bureau was set up in 2006 to clamp down on organised insurance fraud. In 2013 the IFB published a report into the 'crash for cash' problem in which it estimated the annual cost to be £392 million with an estimated 1 in 7 of all personal injury claims being linked to suspected cash for crash scams.

Crash for cash and how it works

In most road traffic 'accidents' where one vehicle is hit from behind by another, it is the driver of the car behind that is deemed to be at fault. So in 'crash for cash' scams the aim is to deliberately stage or induce an accident for which the other (following) driver can be blamed.

Fraudsters may also deliberately crash two vehicles together in private or even make a completely fabricated claim for a 'ghost' accident that never happened at all. But of most concern, because it puts innocent members of the public at risk, is the induced accident.

  • In the simplest scenario, a car may pull in front of you and brake sharply and suddenly giving you no chance to avoid going into the back of them. Alternatively they may appear to accelerate away from traffic lights or a roundabout normally only to brake sharply for no obvious reason.
  • In other examples drivers have reported a car in front slamming on the brakes suddenly when approaching a pedestrian crossing - even though the road ahead was completely clear and there were no pedestrians near or on the crossing.
  • There have been many reports of fraudsters going so far as to disconnect the brake lights on their vehicle so that following vehicles have even less chance of stopping in time to avoid the collision.

Gangs will target the vehicles most likely to have insurance and drivers least likely to cause a scene so mums with children in the car, older drivers, well-maintained cars and cars with private plates may all be at higher risk.


Flash for cash

'Flash for cash' is a more recent phenomenon in which the fraudsters flash their headlights at an innocent driver, apparently to beckon you out of a junction, shops or petrol filling station, only to speed up and induce a crash for which you will be blamed – "I was driving along normally and you just pulled out without looking!"

Avoid being a victim
  • Look well ahead trying to anticipate possible hazards at all times.
  • Allow plenty of space to the car in front at all times but particularly at junctions and pedestrian crossings.
  • Be particularly wary of a vehicle in front driving erratically or slowing down for no apparent reason.
  • If you suspect that the brake lights may not be working on the car in front keep well out of their way.
  • Never assume that flashing headlights is a signal inviting you to proceed. Use your own judgement and proceed carefully (Highway Code rule 111).
  • Do not assume, when waiting at a junction that a vehicle coming from the right and signalling left will actually turn. Wait and make sure (Highway Code rule 170).
If you think you've been a victim

If you've been involved in a collision that you suspect may have been deliberately induced:

  • Don't admit liability for anything at the scene
  • It is best not to challenge the other driver directly with your suspicions
  • Take written notes – what happened, descriptions of the other driver and any passengers, what's said.
  • Take as many photographs as possible – discreetly if you can of:
    • the general scene
    • the damage to both vehicles
    • the inside of the other vehicle showing the number of occupants – a picture proving there weren't lots of people in the car reduces the potential for fraudulent injury claims
  • Insist on calling the police (the fraudster may well back off) and tell them of your suspicions when you do so
  • Check for independent witnesses – but be aware that gangs can plant witnesses as part of the scam
  • Report the incident to your insurer as soon as possible, and tell them about your suspicions
  • Report the incident to the Insurance Fraud Bureau Cheatline on 0800 422 0421, or on their website

Dashboard cameras

More and more drivers are installing video cameras in their cars to protect against this type of fraud or even to protect themselves against possible accusations of careless driving offences such as tailgating or lane-hogging.

Cameras continuously record HD quality video to a memory card, constantly overwriting previously recorded footage. If you're involved in an incident the related footage can be saved for viewing on a PC together with speed and GPS location data and shared with the police or your insurer.

Cameras can give good protection against crash for cash scams and can be helpful in the event of an accident to help establish who was involved and who was to blame but should not be used for vigilante purposes. Video footage is useful to support an insurance claim and the development of this technology is welcomed and supported by insurers some of whom are offering premium discounts where cameras are fitted and used.

(Page updated 7 October 2013)