Motorist William Smith was proud of his perfectly clean driving record before he crashed his car last year.
The 50-year-old was driving home after visiting his mother when his Ford Focus went into the back of an Audi that had stopped suddenly at a roundabout in Nottinghamshire.
He admitted responsibility for the collision, having been driving the rear vehicle, and paid out hundreds of pounds for repairs – but it soon emerged he had been targeted in an attempted fraud.
Dashcam footage revealed Mr Smith was the victim of a suspected “crash for cash” incident – and there are now warnings that criminals behind the dangerous scams are targeting new areas across the UK.
The scams often involve fraudsters slamming on their brakes at busy junctions and roundabouts so the driver behind cannot stop in time.
The Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) says it has found evidence that gangs are increasingly travelling out to areas away from the usual hotspots to cause collisions with motorists less familiar with the crime.
Mr Smith told Sky News he was left “shaken up” by his crash and those behind the scams are causing “pain and strife to innocent people”, as well as risking lives.
“There could be children or elderly, frail people who may not withstand even a small impact,” he said.
“I wasn’t expecting this car in front of me to come to a sudden stop because the road was clear for him.”
‘Substantial’ personal injury claim
Immediately after his collision near Cotgrave, Mr Smith said the Audi driver – who had a passenger in his car – began taking photographs of the damage to his vehicle.
“He was very calm,” Mr Smith said.
“He didn’t seem fussed at all that something had just gone into the back of him.
“It’s the first time I’ve been involved in something like that. I had a perfectly clean driving record until then.”
Mr Smith said his insurance company LV= examined his dashcam footage and he admitted responsibility for the collision.
But several weeks later, the Audi driver made a “substantial” personal injury claim despite the fact the collision happened at low speed, Mr Smith said.
A spokeswoman for LV= said its fraud detection systems picked up some information on the driver which prompted the company to review the incident again.
Mr Smith said his dashcam footage was re-examined and it revealed a second car “seemed to be working in unison” with the Audi vehicle.
The footage showed the second car had driven a full loop around the roundabout before the Audi had apparently stopped suddenly for it, despite being a distance away, he added.
Mr Smith said his insurers tried to contact the Audi driver to state their belief it was a fraudulent claim but received no response and the case was closed.
He told Sky News he is now relieved to know the crash wasn’t his fault but he also felt “anger and frustration” that he had been forced to cover a £400 excess for the car repairs.
Staged accidents ‘back to pre-pandemic levels’
LV= said it had seen increased activity from organised crime groups working together to coordinate crash-for-cash scams.
Staged accidents accounted for the highest insurance fraud type in the last quarter of 2021, it added.
Matt Crabtree, head of fraud strategy at LV=, said: “With the easing of COVID-19 restrictions we’ve started to see staged and induced accidents back to pre-pandemic levels, with increased activity from organised crime groups.
“I urge the public to remain vigilant to this, and look for dashcam or CCTV footage if you’re involved in what you think is an orchestrated accident.”
It’s more than a decade since the first fatal crash-for-cash incident was recorded in Britain.
Baljinder Kaur Gill, 34, was killed in a collision that had been caused by a deliberate crash on the A40 in Buckinghamshire in 2011.
Members of a Polish gang were involved in an attempted fraud in which a Volkswagen Passat and an Audi A3 were to be crashed into a Ford Transit van in order to claim personal injury compensation.
Ms Gill’s Ford Fiesta was hit by one of the vehicles used in the £20,000 insurance scam and left stranded in the fast lane.
Radoslaw Bielawski and Jacek Kowalczyk were jailed for 10 years and three months and Andrzez Skowron was sentenced to 10 years for their roles in Ms Gill’s death.
New areas targeted
Known crash-for-cash hotspots in the UK include the likes of Birmingham, Bradford, Walsall, Blackburn, Romford, Manchester, Luton and London, according to the IFB.
The bureau has also identified 10 new areas which have been frequently targeted in the last 12 months.
• Frome, Somerset
• Worksop, Nottinghamshire
• Cirencester, Gloucestershire
• Milton Keynes
• Warrington, Cheshire
• Ashby, Leicestershire
There is also evidence to suggest gangs are targeting villages with the dangerous tactic, the IFB said.
There are now concerns that if local drivers do not know to look out for signs of the scam and report it, cases could rise fast.
Ben Fletcher, director at the IFB, said: “Crash for cash fraudsters are known to evolve their tactics and the latest evidence shows that they’ve started spreading out from prominent crime hotspots to less suspecting towns and cities in the hope that they can avoid detection.
“This change in tactic brings home the fact that no matter where people may live, everyone should be on their guard to these reckless car crash scams.
“To help us stop cases from rising and bring these fraudsters to justice, we urge drivers to look out for signs of crash for cash scams and to report any evidence of it to us straight away.”
There are also fears that the cost of living crisis could make these scams more prevalent.
Detective Chief Inspector Tom Hill, from City of London Police, said: “As we have seen in the past, a rise in cost of living and resulting financial hardships can often drive people to commit fraud.
“Unfortunately, this means that the public need to be even more alert than usual to fraudsters, like crash for cash drivers.”