Crash fraudsters busted by own online bragging

ICBC investigators scour social media postings for ammunition to reduce or deny inflated claims

Insurance fraudsters are increasingly being tripped up online by their own social media postings.

ICBC says it opened 2,350 cyber cases last year where investigators used social media or other online postings to try to uncover suspected fraudulent or exaggerated crash claims.

“Social media is a growing area that’s been highly successful for us,” said Chris Fairbridge, manager of ICBC’s Special Investigations Unit.

“When you’ve got pictures and you’ve got video and you’ve got posts of what you’ve been doing, it’s pretty hard for anybody to look at that and say you’re telling the truth when you’ve exaggerated.”

Fairbridge said the dedicated unit now has 10 investigators dedicated to cyber cases, up from two when it was started in 2010.

About 70 per cent of their investigations have some effect in reducing payout costs or leading to a complete denial.

One 2015 example was a B.C. woman who claimed crash injuries kept her from returning to work as a hairdresser, but posted on Twitter and Facebook about hiking, running and being one of the “hardest hitters” on the roller derby team she’d just joined. She settled for half her original claim after being confronted with her social media posts.

In another case that went to court, a woman sought $1 million after being hit by a motorcycle in a crosswalk. A judge awarded her just $20,000 and ordered her to pay $34,000 in ICBC costs after deciding from social media posts and other evidence that she’d grossly exaggerated her injuries.

Other phony claimants were undone by their friends’ social media postings.

A Lower Mainland man said he couldn’t go back to his desk job after a crash but investigators found a friend’s Facebook photo of him later running a grueling obstacle race in Whistler, as well as a video of him taking down an opponent in a mixed martial arts bout. Shown the evidence, he quickly settled, citing a miraculous recovery.

ICBC also denied a Kamloops man’s claim that vandals burned his truck after finding evidence the fire was suspicious and a Craigslist posting trying to sell the truck because he couldn’t afford to pay for its repairs.

Penalties may go beyond reduced or denied payouts.

Fairbridge said there were 520 successful fraud convictions in the last five years, some leading to jail time.

Those convicted may not be able to cross the border again or may have trouble getting a loan or a job, he noted.

Asked if fraudsters are getting wise and going dark on social media after a claim, Fairbridge said no.

“People can’t help themselves.”

An estimated 10 to 20 per cent of auto insurance claims are fraudulent or exaggerated, costing an extra $600 million a year in B.C. and adding $100 to the insurance premiums of the average driver.

“We’re not going to tolerate that, we’re not going to pass those costs along to honest customers,” Fairbridge said.

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