A practice known as ghost broking is on the rise with some victims being conned out of hundreds of pounds, in return for supposedly cheap car insurance, new research has revealed.
Ghost brokers claim they can obtain car insurance for drivers at a low price, in exchange for a fee, with many victims actually just sold a fake insurance document that doesn’t even exist, according to exclusive data for This is Money from Which?.
Alternatively, a real policy is purchased, but some of the original driver’s details will be changed to lower the price with the paperwork doctored to disguise this.
If a policy was bought from a ghost broker who changed the driver’s details, it will seem that the car is insured at first but if that person ever needed to make a claim, it soon becomes clear that it is fake.
One of the adverts used by ghost brokers trying to encourage people to buy fake car policies
The victims of the scam are two fold as it is not only unsuspecting strangers who are having their details stolen – but the people who purchase the phony policies are also at risk of losing out on hundreds of pounds.
A ghost broker may just use another person’s address in lieu of the actual ‘customer’s’.
All you’d need to do this is to find an address in a seemingly low-risk postcode area.
Some go further and include real people’s names and others also, dates of birth, making the proposal more convincing to the insurer.
There are various sources of this data. For instance, the electoral register contains various names and addresses. Sometimes this and other info can also be found in people’s social media profiles, if they’re not particularly careful about privacy.
Fraudsters also manage to buy details such as names, addresses and ages online and they can originate from a range of sources such as data leaks or hacked emails.
Which? revealed that 50 of its members responded with examples suggestive of insurance fraud, with many in rural or suburban areas.
After speaking to the police about the issue, it confirmed that this sort of crime is on the rise.
Stephen Dalton, head of Intelligence and Investigations at the Insurance Fraud Bureau, also told Which? that ghost broking accounted for a third of its 65 ongoing fraud investigations at the end of 2019.
These are the details that Which? had to fill out for the ghost broker – including car details
Meanwhile, last year alone, Aviva nullified over 3,100 policies and quotes that were found to be linked to ghost broking. It is currently investigating a further 4,000 cases.
Ghost brokers can make a large amount of money from these scams with one fraudster jailed in 2017 after making £59,000 from the practice.
The practice mainly exploits drivers who are struggling to find cover elsewhere with one advert Which? found even saying: ‘No license? No problem! Car insurance for unlicensed drivers.’
The Metropolitan Police reporting that such crimes cost victims an average of £1,209 each and motorists could also find themselves slapped with a fine, receive points on their licence and be charged more for their insurance in future as a result.
Jenny Ross, Which? money editor, said: ‘Ghost-broking is an increasingly prevalent car insurance scam that can lead to serious consequences, including drivers being hit with fines, penalty points or even disqualification.
‘Fraudsters are using sophisticated tactics online to trick vulnerable customers into thinking that they’re buying a legitimate policy, when in fact it’s bogus.
‘Consumers should watch out for warning signs that the insurance may not be genuine, including suspiciously low prices, and always check that the provider is regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority.’
‘My details were used for more than insurance’
Ian Cooper, from Woking, was one such person who was targeted by a ghost broker.
Ian said that he started receiving strange letters from People’s Choice and Bet365
He received a letter from insurer, People’s Choice, who advised him that it believed a fraudster had been using his details to take out policies.
He said: ‘The letter said that it had cancelled my car insurance policy and owed me a refund of £38. I had never had insurance from People’s Choice so I was very confused.’
After receiving the letter, he spoke to the insurer who explained that a fraudster had taken a policy out in his name, using his address but a London telephone number.
Although he was able to establish that his credit card, phone number or email address hasn’t been used, he was subsequently contacted by Bet365 confirming a recently opened account.
Worryingly, whoever had set up the account in his name had at least part of his date of birth. Ian reported the fraud to Bet365 and asked to check if the password used to set up the account was one he normally used.
Bet365 weren’t able to confirm or deny this as its security systems prevent staff from having any access to passwords its customers used.
However, legislation says that all customers must prove their identity when signing up to a betting site, usually by taking a picture of their driving licence or passport.
This suggests that either the fraudster had more of Ian’s details than just his date of birth or they managed to get around Bet365’s supposedly tight security systems.
Ian has since changed some of his passwords as a safety precaution. He hasn’t changed all as he was never informed which password the Bet365 fraudster used, meaning he doesn’t know which one needs to be altered.
How the scam works
The advert: Which? found numerous ads on Instagram from ‘brokers’ promising to secure quality insurance at unbelievable prices. Some emphasise the legitimacy of what they offer whilst others boast of their talents at covering the difficult to insure.
The quote: You give your details and get a quote – just as you would with a legitimate broker or insurer.
This is what one of the adverts on Instagram said, saying it saves drivers 40% on insurance
Confirmation: You may be allowed to ‘check’ how the quote was arrived at – usually via screenshots. These can be convincing but are easily faked, and probably won’t give the whole story.
Reassurance: If you’re having second thoughts, the ghost broker will have ways of assuaging doubt. This might involve dazzling you with jargon, or con?dence.
Commitment: You’ll need to pay an ‘admin fee’ either before or after the policy is set up. Some brokers will part company with you from here. Others will be more controlling – buying the policy on your behalf and forwarding you the paperwork.
‘Proof’: Fraudsters will be keen to assure you they can be trusted – sometimes by not asking for their fee till after you receive policy documents, or the car shows up as covered on the Motor Insurance Database. Neither of these prove that the policy won’t unravel.
Moving on: Sticking around under the same guise for more than a few months can be risky for a ghost broker, and setting up new online pro?les and switching phone numbers is easy. So if problems subsequently arise with your policy, you’ll be hard pushed to track the broker down.
Which? told the ghost broker they weren’t able to get the prices they were offering online
Which? contacted several ‘brokers’, posing as a 20-year-old inexperienced driver. The cheapest quotes it gathered via comparison sites came out at around £1,500.
But two of the brokers it spoke to offered suspiciously low prices of £576, for a Provident policy, and £837 at Sheila’s Wheels, respectively.
It was apparent from the quotes the ‘brokers’ shared with Which? that both had simply used comparison site MoneySupermarket.
The first broker, who offered £576 admitted that they’d changed Which?’s address, but insisted: ‘Everything is legit, your details, car and licence details are correct.’
They downplayed the significance of the false address, promising that Provident wouldn’t ‘bother’ Which? about it.
They paid the broker a £250 ‘admin fee’, and were given login details to the MoneySuperMarket profile they’d constructed for them – although the broker tried to convince Which? beforehand that it should let them ‘process’ the policy themselves.
This would mean giving the fraudster their card details so that they could buy the policy on its behalf.
One of the quotes sent to Which? by a ghost broker, promising cheap car insurance
When Which? checked the profile, it was soon apparent that more than its address had been changed.
Among other things, a fictitious middle-aged named driver had been added, with whom Which? was apparently in a common-law relationship with.
The broker had also changed the date Which? had purchased the car, reduced its value significantly and invented various details about its driving habits.
The second broker, who offered a policy for £837, referred Which? to the broker’s ‘business partner’ on messaging service WhatsApp, who sent more detailed screenshots of MoneySuperMarket’s quotation form with its details on it.
Which? asked how this broker was able to get better prices there than it could.
They answered: ‘I work with a lot of brokers and every year I invest into promotions and I then receive up to 40 per cent off from any quotes given from MoneySuperMarket.’
This broker – who was generally less transparent – wouldn’t allow Which? to complete the purchase ourselves.
Instead of going ahead, Which? contacted MoneySuperMarket and an insurer on its panel to see if this broker had run quotes using its actual details. It learned that at least one of the screenshots the broker had shown us, to ‘prove’ their good faith, was fabricated.
Among other factors, they’d amended the date of birth, added a no-claims bonus, and changed the car’s purchase date and mileage.
‘I got letters about a new insurance policy – but it wasn’t mine’
Sean Parker was one such individual who found fell victim to ghost broking. He received a letter in June of last year, addressed to Imre Nagy, from Saga.
The letter welcomed Mr Nagy to his new car insurance policy with Saga. However, Sean is not and has never been a Saga customer so contacted the firm to find out what was going on.
At first, Saga insisted that it telephoned the policyholder to confirm the address which this person did. But after further insistence, Saga said it would pass on the complaint to its fraud department.
Although he never heard back from the insurer, he continued to receive six follow up letters from Saga, still addressed to Mr Nagy, with the last cancelling his policy after he reportedly stopping paying for it.
After this, Sean found out that Imre Nagy is the name of a former President of Hungary – so clearly whoever was taking out the policy in his name was not using their own name.
What can I do to protect myself?
If you’re seeking affordable insurance, watch out for the telltale signs that give away fake brokers. These include the use of mobile phone or messaging apps as primary means of contact, and not having a website outside social media.
Most importantly, check if they’re registered on the Financial Conduct Authority’s website. If they’re not, they’re probably not genuine.
If you’ve received suspicious correspondence from an insurer, the first step is to let the insurer know. In theory, this should put an end to you being hassled – although, as some Which? members have found, it doesn’t always work.
It’s also worth keeping a close eye on your credit report – this will allow you to pick up on any searches by companies you don’t recognise, which could indicate a fraudulent application made in your name.
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