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Crash for cash: how to avoid this roadside scam

Carlton Boyce / 04 April 2019 ( 02 December 2020 )

Crash for cash: an especially unpleasant crime that plays on the age-old concept that in a crash the driver behind is the one at fault.

A car accident where one vehicle crashes into the back of the car in front.
The scam plays on the commonly-held assumption that if a car crashes into the rear of another car, the driver in the car behind is at fault

How does crash for cash work?

The crash for cash scam started with criminals deliberately driving into your car and then claiming inflated amounts for damage and personal injuries. Insurance fraud can cost insurance companies £629m a year a year, with around £4350 million coming from crash for cash incidents - a cost that can drive up the insurance cost of honest drivers.

Claims for whiplash, a notoriously hard condition to diagnose, soared and, as a result, insurance companies started to take a much harder line when managing such claims - hardly surprising as it was costing the industry so much money.

This insurance crackdown drove some criminals to seek new ways of making money from the unsuspecting motorist: by braking suddenly, forcing the car behind them to crash into the back of theirs, they would demand a relatively small sum – typically between £50 and £200 – at the scene in return for not claiming through the driver’s car insurance policy.

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Why do people fall for crash for cash?

Some people fall for these scams because they are worried about the effect an insurance claim will have on their no-claims bonus (NCB), as it is usually assumed that in a two-car collision, where one car drives into the back of another, the driver behind is the one at fault. 

By paying a small sum at the scene, they hope to avoid triggering a full-blown insurance claim in which they would have to pay their insurance excess and lose their NCB discount.

Others feel bullied and pressured into paying up. Some victims have even been driven to the nearest cash point machine to withdraw the money on the spot, while others have been the subject of telephone calls, and even visits to their home, with demands for further sums of money. Make no mistake, this is extortion.

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How can I spot this scam?

If the car in front of you brakes suddenly and for no reason, it may well be a scam – and if you didn’t see their brake lights come on too, it could be a fraudulent accident. Criminals will often disable the brake lights so you don’t have any warning that they are coming to an abrupt halt.

If the car in front reverses into you, you should be on your guard. Without corroborating evidence to the contrary, they may well claim that you drove into them, not vice versa.

Other giveaways include a driver who seems far too calm or has their insurance details already written down on a piece of paper, or an accident where the driver or passengers claim to have injuries that seem far too severe for the level of impact.

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What can I do to prevent myself falling victim?

We all make mistakes, and not all accidents are going to mean you’ve fallen victim to a scam, but it’s good to be on your guard. 

The main piece of advice is to never, ever pay someone at the side of the road if you have an accident. Not only are you increasing your chances of being ripped off, you might also be committing an offence by not telling your car insurance company what has happened. You must always disclose all accidents and incidents to them, even if you don’t go on to make a claim. Even if you are suspicious that this was a set up it's better to let your insurance company investigate.

If you are feeling threatened then lock your car’s doors, move your car to a safe place if it is drivable, and then phone the police immediately. Tell the operator what your concerns are and they can advise on the best course of action.

Finally, consider buying an in-car dash camera. Prices start at under £30 for a basic model, the presence of which might deter an incident in the first place. Even if it doesn’t, it will provide incontrovertible, independent evidence to the police and your insurance company that will help you prove you weren’t at fault. Many arrests have already been made and some offenders have subsequently been found guilty and been given prison sentences as a result of the police viewing video footage.

Is there anything else I can do?

You can also report suspicious insurance claims to Insurance Fraud Bureau's Cheatline by calling 0800 422 0421 or by reporting online. All information provided is treated in the strictest confidence and used to look for patterns in behaviour across the country to help the IFB work with police to catch criminals. In 2018, 77 fraudsters were found guilty of involvement in a crash for cash gang as part of the largest insurance investigation in the UK so far.

Finally, please try not to worry. While these incidents are on the rise, these few simple measures could reduce your risk of falling prey to a fraudulent claim!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.