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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 January 2007, 11:02 GMT
'Cash for crash' scam targets drivers
A car crash

By Jenny Percival
BBC News

The number of staged car accidents, where someone deliberately crashes into an innocent motorist and claims on insurance or demands cash, is on the rise. But how do you know if you are a victim and what should you do?

As a former lorry driver, Paul had always felt confident of his driving abilities.

But as he drove home from his job as a charity volunteer there was nothing he could do when a car braked sharply in front of him at a busy town roundabout.

"I did my best but I slid into him," says Paul. "We pulled up and he gave me his name and address, which he seemed to have written out already.

"I definitely felt it was a scam. There was very little damage done and yet he claimed about 32,000, which included a tow truck when none was needed. I nearly fell off my seat."

It happens at a busy roundabout or junction
The car appeared to have been following you
The other driver brakes suddenly, for no reason
Hugely inflated claims for damage and injuries
Fictitious passengers added to the insurance claim
Bogus witnesses, mechanics or doctors back up the claim

His experience is similar to that of Stuart, who was looking for a parking place near his home in east London when another vehicle collided with his MGF sports car.

Three men got out of the car, one of whom demanded 50 and threatened to collect it from him at his home later that evening. He refused to give them the money and instead offered his insurance details.

A month later Stuart received a letter from the men's solicitor demanding an inflated sum of money for whiplash injuries and damage to the car.

"I believe it was a staged accident," says Stuart, who reported his suspicion to the police.

Braking hard

There are a number of ways the criminals operate, says Det Chief Supt Steve Wilmott of the City of London Police, which is investigating four suspected fraud cases, each involving more than 70 car accidents.

"One way is that they will drive with two or three people in their vehicle and will select a fairly new vehicle with one or two people or maybe a family inside.

"Then they will deliberately collide with it, either by side-swiping it or by braking hard in front of the vehicle, and then they will claim against insurance for whiplash or other injuries."

A survey suggests these so-called "cash for crash" cases are part of a new crime trend that many drivers are unaware of.

A car crash
The number of deliberate crashes is on the rise

Out of 2,418 drivers questioned by YouGov on behalf of insurers' Royal and SunAlliance, 41% had never heard of the crime and a further 40% would not know if they had been in a staged accident.

The Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB), which was set up by insurers last year to deal with fraud cases, says that bogus and inflated claims like those from deliberate accidents cost more than 1.5 billion a year. They say this adds five per cent to premiums.

John Beadle, IFB chairman, said: "Staged motor accidents are on the rise and are potentially extremely dangerous.

"Not only do they cost honest drivers millions of pounds each year but they also put innocent motorists in danger."

Do not say anything about your suspicions
Take photos of cars and passengers
Count the number of passengers in the other car
Try to find an independent witness
Tell the police and your insurers about your suspicions
To report someone suspected of this crime ring 0800 328 2550.

Police and insurers have issued advice to people on what can arouse suspicions an accident has been faked.

A driver braking suddenly in front for no apparent reason is a common feature, especially after erratic behaviour or tailing for long periods.

Any demands for money on-the-spot should be rejected in favour of exchanging insurance details. And police advise that any suspicions should be reported.

These warnings may have come too late for Paul and Stuart but they hope their stories will help to make other drivers more aware.

The names of the victims in this story were changed for legal reasons.

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