Crash for cash: how to avoid this roadside scam

Carlton Boyce / 04 April 2019

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.

How does it work?

The scam started with criminals deliberately driving into your car and then claiming inflated amounts for damage and personal injuries. 

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 up to £400 million a year.

This crackdown drove 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 it?

Some people fall for it 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.

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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.

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. 

If you are at all suspicious, 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 suspicions are and they will get help to you as fast as they can. After all, they want to catch the criminals in the act just as much as you!

The second 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 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.

Finally, consider buying an in-car video 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.

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Is there anything else I can do?

You can also report your suspicions to Cheatline by calling 0800 422 0421 or by reporting online. All information provided is treated in the strictest confidence. 

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.