Cash for crash conmen are defrauding insurance companies out of millions of pounds with Bolton ranked ninth in a UK list of hotspots for the crime. Jeremy Culley meets the investigators responsible for breaking up these fraud rings.
INFURIATING, frustrating, financially damaging, even life-changing — car accidents can have a dramatic impact on households.
What then would your reaction be if you learned that the other driver had deliberately caused the accident to make a quick buck?
Bolton’s record for so-called “cash for crash” incidents is not good, but the town is also home to one of the country’s most successful firms responsible for breaking up these fraud rings.
Keoghs Solicitors has doubled its staff in the last four years — to more than 1,200 — and last year was responsible for recovering £37 million from car insurance fraud, with more and more ending in convictions.
To put that into context, the City of London police's insurance fraud team — Ifed —is currently investigating only £23m worth of car fraud rings in the criminal courts, although their focus is solely on convictions rathe than recovering money for individual clients.
By gathering intelligence and analysing databases, Keoghs’ 12 "fraud rings champions", forming part of a wider team of 70, are employed specifically to investigate and uncover these fraudsters.
Two of these fraud "detective"’ spoke to The Bolton News, but to protect their identities, we have changed their names to Craig and Sandra.
Craig said there were two main types of fradulent claim — stage-contrived and induced.
The former involves two vehicles deliberately colliding while induced crashes refer to people slamming their brakes on to get the car behind to crash into them.
These can cost insurers tens of thousands of pounds.
Injuries sustained by passengers can merit huge payouts with false doctor’s statements not uncommon.
Engineers can value old cars as vintage, meaning a car bought for £500 can be recompensed as if it is worth £10,000.
Crucially, credit hire companies can charge up to £650 a day for replacement vehicles, so a small dispute can rapidly lead to another five-figure bill being submitted.
Craig said: “We recently had one that went to trial in London. I was our representative and we are talking in excess of £700,000 made from the crime.
“If we see seven or eight similar claims, then we build up a larger collective of intelligence.
“We managed to explain to the court that there was a bigger picture and a conspiracy as within a few days they were having more accidents.
“We work very closely with police and, invariably, the people that we take to them are known already.
“Sometimes they call us straight back if we’ve emailed them the name of an organised criminal.
“It just shows what a ‘little firm’ in Bolton is doing to fight insurance fraud.
“Women on their own with children in the car are targeted as they can be distracted.
“Young drivers also crop up a lot because of their inexperience, while commercial vehicles often are involved as people know they will be insured and there is less personal reason for the driver to be unduly worried.
"Areas near shopping centres often come up and you do get fraud rings that stupidly use the same junctions or roundabouts.
"Some roundabouts near the Reebok and our office are also quite popular, ironically.”
Other places in Bolton have also been named previously as some of the worst crash for cash spots in the north of England.
Bolton's most notorious case involved Mohammed Patel, from Halliwell, who was jailed for four-and-a-half years after he admitted being the driver in at least 92 staged crashes across the north west.
In 2011 a Bolton garage owner and three other men were jailed for their part in a £50,000 cash for crash scam.
At Manchester Crown Court Judge Martin Steiger QC jailed 51-year-old Richard Beswick for 18 months.
Judge Steiger said the crime had been “ingeniously engineered by men who had skills way beyond those available to the individual”.
Accident management companies often are at the centre of the frauds and Keoghs has been the downfall of a number of these organisations.
Sandra said: “These companies have popped up in our investigations and we have found their offices to be in a field or a flat above a takeaway. Clearly they will not have the scope to manage such a large number of claims.”
Last year, Keoghs uncovered a huge fraud ring in Burnhope, Co Durham, which involved 261 separate insurance claims. Seven members of the Wright family were among 60 people arrested.
The head of the clan, Alan Wright, was sentenced to four-and-half years in jail last year The Fraud Rings Champions think they are winning the battle.
Sandra added: “It used to be people had virtually nothing to lose in falsely claiming as the worst consequence would be the claim being cancelled. Now we’re getting more and more convictions.”