SUN, SEA & SCAM: City of London Police reminds people that travel insurance fraud does not pay as more take holidays abroad
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With many people taking the October half term as the first opportunity to holiday abroad since travel was halted by Covid-19 restrictions last March, the City of London Police is reminding the public that fraudulent travel insurance claims are a punishable offence.
Seen by many as a ‘victimless’ crime, it is not uncommon for holiday-goers to exploit their insurance policy upon return from their travels, whether through a fabricated claim for a ‘stolen’ phone, grossly exaggerating the value of lost belongings, or lying about medical treatment required during their trip.
A recent report from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) revealed that, although the number of fraudulent travel insurance claims decreased by 50% in 2020, the total value of these claims increased by 2% to £1.8 million. Last year also saw the highest ever recorded average claims value, with the average fraudulent claim totalling around £2,358.
Detective Chief Inspector Edelle Michaels, Head of the City of London Police’s Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED), said:
“Holidays abroad have been warmly welcomed back into our lives, with many of us needing a well-deserved break after the ups-and-downs of the past eighteen months. Whilst it is easy to get caught up in the excitement of a trip overseas, it is important to check that you have the necessary travel insurance before setting off.
“Travel insurance provides peace of mind whilst in a foreign country. These policies are intended to be a reassuring safety net should the worst happen, not a means of personal financial gain.
“Unfortunately, some people think nothing of abusing their insurance policy by making fictitious or exaggerated claims. As a result, the cost of insurance is driven up for everyone, meaning that honest policyholders end up paying the price. These fraudulent claims are also an insult to those who go through a stressful experience whilst in another country, which leads to them needing to use their policy.”
During the pandemic, IFED has seen cases of individuals taking advantage of Covid-19 travel restrictions by submitting claims for cancelled flights and holidays that did not actually exist. As foreign travel resumes, the unit expects that criminals will refocus their attention on making claims for bogus incidents whilst on holiday.
Some criminals do not think there will be consequences to their fraudulent actions as they see international borders as a hindrance for police investigations. However, this is certainly not the case. IFED and the industry take this type of crime seriously, and work hard with international agencies to bring perpetrators to justice.
Mark Allen, Chief Fraud and Financial Crime Officer, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), said:
“Travel insurance should be a must buy when booking any overseas trip. It is primarily designed and priced to cover potentially eye wateringly expensive overseas emergency medical treatment bills, and is most definitely not a source of easy money for any insurance cheat. The vast majority of travel insurance claims are genuine, but insurers will always crackdown on any cheats to protect their honest customers.”
Cormac McCollum, 27, of Great Eastern Road, Stratford, London, was sentenced to twelve months imprisonment suspended for eighteen months, 180 hours of unpaid work and ordered to pay £8,000 within 90 days, after imitating both his partner and his father in order to make claims for alleged medical treatments whilst abroad.
McCollum first pretended to be his partner on the phone to his insurer to report that he had undergone surgery for an ear injury whilst in the United States. He then later employed the same imitation tactics by alleging to be his father in order to submit a claim for his mother, lying that she had undergone gall bladder surgery during a trip to Florida.
Investigations uncovered that McCollum had forged documents to substantiate his claim. McCollum’s guilt was evident from the moment IFED officers stepped into his home and he attempted to destroy incriminating evidence by eating it. Officers were still able to seize implicating evidence showing he was planning to execute another similar plot.
Taleka White, 32, of Broad Green Avenue, Croydon, was sentenced to twenty-two months imprisonment suspended for twenty-one months, a four-month electronically monitored curfew and twenty sessions of rehabilitation activity, after targeting several insurers over a period of three years with false claims to cover missed flights.
White repeatedly implemented the same formula for the fake travel insurance claims, alleging that her vehicle had broken down on the way to the airport to catch a return flight home and she had therefore missed the flight. In order to substantiate her claims, White forged documents, including e-tickets and invoices from mechanics.
The airlines involved confirmed that the bookings did not exist, proving that White was never a passenger on the flights she claimed to have ‘missed’.
Alison Ntim, 26, of Mowatt Close, London was sentenced to eight months imprisonment, suspended for 18 months, 150 hours of community service and a 15 day rehabilitation requirement. Ntim travelled to Venice, Italy, as part of her studies. For this trip she was insured on a policy taken out by her university to cover students who travelled on authorised study trips.
After initially making a genuine claim on this policy, Ntim went on to submit claims worth nearly £15,000 on behalf of six other people, all of whom she claimed also went on the same trip. IFED officers discovered that five of the students did not go on the trip nor were they students at the university.