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Beware of ‘claims hijackers’: Scammers exploit online searches, costing drivers thousands

When looking up their insurance online, drivers have been warned to exercise particular caution since there is a new breed of “claims hijackers” out there that will try to con them out of thousands of pounds after they have been in an accident.

According to the Insurance Fraud Bureau, scammers use paid advertisements on spoof websites to appear at the top of Google and other search engines, tricking unsuspecting drivers into believing they are being redirected to the official insurer’s website. Countless cases of vulnerable people have already been targeted by these scammers on a daily basis.

Inadvertently contacting one of these third-party websites through an advertisement may lead claimants to believe they are speaking with their provider, entangle them in legal contracts with unidentified companies, and incur expenses of up to £50,000.

How claims hijackers use paid-ads to scam drivers

Search engine users may be tricked by deceptive advertisements sponsored by dishonest companies into contacting them rather than their insurer when they utilise search engines like Google to file a claim after an accident or damage to their car.

These frequently rank highly in searches, giving users the impression that the website is authentic.

Upon clicking the link, the victim is directed to a fraudulent website where they are requested to provide personal information in order to obtain “support services” and maybe file a claim. This leads to a series of unsolicited contracts with unidentified parties.

While any kind of insurance consumer may fall prey to a paid-ad spoofing scheme, those who have been in car accidents are thought to be particularly vulnerable because they may still be rattled by the incident and may not be acting rationally while filing a claim.

These victims might also think that everything is covered by their fully-comprehensive car insurance, yet thousands of pounds in fees are being accrued since they are unaware that they are not interacting with their insurer.

Who pays these fees varies.

The company will file a claim with their insurer to recover the cost of its uninvited services if the other driver is at fault. In many situations, the victim might not even be aware that they’ve been connected to a scam.

If the other driver was not at fault for the collision, then the individual who was misled into contacting the claims agency for assistance bears the responsibility of paying for all expenses that their insurance would have otherwise covered.

Tens of thousands of pounds may be charged for these services, and the victim may receive constant, ominous calls from outside companies.

Several businesses that are allegedly connected to the activities are the subject of an investigation by the IFB.

How to avoid falling victim to a claims hijackers

The IFB says consumers must be vigilant when searching for their insurer online.

Before providing personal information and consenting to service promises, they should verify the legitimacy of any advertisements by calling the number listed and visiting the website.

Customers should ideally have their insurer’s contact information on their phone or in writing somewhere safe (it can be found on a policy paper).

In an effort to stop the problem from getting worse, IFB and insurer Aviva, which is frequently misrepresented, have partnered to launch a joint campaign to educate drivers, particularly older drivers who may not be as tech-savvy, on how paid-ad spoofing scams operate and how to avoid falling for them.

Ursula Jallow, Director at IFB, said: “The scale and complexity of paid-ad spoofing scams is significant.

“Millions use and search for insurance services each day, and it only takes a small number of people to fall for paid-ad scams for a string of dodgy firms to greatly profit from their misfortune.”

She warns that there is a ‘minefield of claims hijackers’ out there and consumers must be vigilant.

“Anyone with concerns of paid-ad spoofing claims scams must report it to our CheatLine,” she said.

Along with other large insurers, Aviva is discovering more and more that their clients have fallen victim to paid-ad spoofing schemes. It has been reported that approximately twelve dishonest companies have falsely identified themselves as the insurance company’s claims management staff.

The elderly and those in distress immediately following an accident are among the more vulnerable consumers of Aviva who have been duped.

People find themselves in a powerless situation where they are being pursued by third parties to pay for unwanted fees when they learn they aren’t getting the services they believed were covered by their insurance policy.

In one instance, Aviva says a claims firm pursued one victim for over £50,000 in costs.

Pete Ward, head of claims counter fraud and the insurance provider, said: “When a customer has a car accident, they look to their insurer to assist them in their time of need.

“The willful misleading of consumers at their most vulnerable point – usually searching for their insurer’s claims details at the roadside after an accident –is causing anxiety and financial stress to those involved.

“Aviva has been working with the IFB, law enforcement and the wider insurance industry, to make consumers aware of the online scammers and protect them from these unscrupulous actors. We hope this will prevent others from being targeted by paid-ad spoofing.”

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