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A recent report by insurance firm Aviva revealed that the number of 'crash for cash' insurance frauds has risen by an astonishing 51 per cent over the least year, and these staged accident scams now account for more than a third of the 6,000 fraudulent claims received by the company last year.
So what can you do to avoid falling victim to the con artists? Here are some top tips to help keep you safe from the scammers on the road.
What is 'crash for cash'?
The scam takes advantage of the fact that in road accidents where one vehicle is hit from behind, the driver at the back is deemed to be at fault. A typical example might be a car pulling out in front of you and braking sharply, giving you little chance to avoid a collision, or slamming on the brakes at a pedestrian crossing, despite the road being apparently clear.
The con artist (and possibly passengers too) then claims to have suffered an injury, usually whiplash which is difficult to disprove, while the innocent driver behind is left footing the bill for the damage caused.
According to the AA, scammers have been known to disconnect their brake lights, and those most likely to have insurance, such as older drivers, well-maintained cars, and even mums with children, are often targeted by fraudsters, since they are less likely to make a scene.
More recently, 'flash for cash', where a driver flashes his headlights to apparently allow an innocent party to turn into a junction or petrol station, only to speed up and cause an accident, has become a more popular method of insurance fraud.
Whether you have yet to experience this increasingly common type of fraud, or have already fallen victim, there are a number of ways in which you can protect yourself.
It is essential that you stay alert on the roads at all times, but pay particular attention to the traffic around you and try to anticipate potential hazards ahead. Allow plenty of space for the car in front at all times, and take particular care at junctions and pedestrian crossings, where fraudsters often take advantage. Keep a distance between yourself and anyone driving erratically, i.e. speeding up and slowing down for no apparent reasons, and if you suspect that the brake lights aren't working, stay well back if at all possible.
Other warning signs to look out for are the driver focusing on the back of the vehicle, perhaps looking for an opportunity to cause a collision, or passengers frequently turning around, potentially for the same reason. Be wary too if the car in front looks as though it has previously been hit in the rear.
Never assume that another driver flashing his headlights means it's all clear to go - it is better to be safe than sorry and use your own judgement.
What if you suspect a 'crash for cash' incident?
For anyone that suspects they may have fallen victim to one of the aforementioned scams, it is important not to admit liability at the scene, and avoid challenging or arguing with the other driver about what may or may not have occurred.
Your best plan of action is to call the police and let them know that you have suspicions, before taking note of as much detail as possible. Write down the make, model and registration number of the vehicle, a description of the driver and any passengers, and what is said. Smartphones mean it is easy enough to get photographic proof of the damage to both vehicles, the location, weather conditions, and the number of passengers in the suspected offending vehicle.
If there are independent witnesses, ask if you can take their details, though be aware that some 'crash for cash' gangs plant witnesses to better enable their fraudulent plans.
As soon as you are able, report the incident to your insurer and advise them of your suspicions. Any suspect accidents should also be reported to the Insurance Fraud Bureau's Cheatline on 0800 422 0421 or via their website.
Have you fallen victim to 'crash for cash' scammers? Tell us about your experience below...