Can you spot the dam­age?

Meet the ex-garda lead­ing the f ight against in­sur­ance fraud… and look at these 10 cars where 12 peo­ple claimed pay­outs of €150k...

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - OMAGH: THE 20TH ANNIVERSARY - By Gerry Hand news@mailon­sun­

IR­ISH fraud­sters in the UK are among a num­ber of crim­i­nal groups tar­get­ing in­sur­ance claims here be­cause pay­outs by our courts far ex­ceed those in the rest of the EU.

But in­sur­ance groups are fight­ing back. In one re­cent case, a team from Aviva trav­elled to the UK to probe a claim al­leg­ing per­sonal in­juries in a crash in Ire­land with an East­ern Eu­ro­pean driver.

The team was led by ‘fraud buster’ Robert Smyth, a for­mer mem­ber of the Garda na­tional drugs unit who now heads a team of 30 ded­i­cated fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tors for Aviva. ‘The ac­counts of the claimants didn’t match that given by the guy who was in­sured with us. That set alarm bells ring­ing so we started to have a look at the claim. We dis­cov­ered that the group mak­ing the claim were Ir­ish but liv­ing in the UK, so some of the team trav­elled over to in­ter­view them. They weren’t ex­pect­ing that and the claim fell apart.’

Re­fer­ring to a dossier of claims re­lat­ing to 10 cars, with 12 in­jury claims, Mr Smyth ex­plained that in the re­gion of €150,000 was paid out, with pay­ments vary­ing from €4,000 to €14,000, but one per­son re­ceived €20,000 and an­other €50,000.

Some­times a case comes un­der scru­tiny based on com­mon sense. Mr Smyth re­called a sce­nario where ‘six peo­ple, three in each car, claimed €60,000 in per­sonal in­juries’. He said: ‘If you look at most cars on the road there is usu­ally one per­son, pos­si­bly two, in each car, so on the bal­ance of prob­a­bil­i­ties we felt it was un­likely that two cars with three peo­ple in each would some­how col­lide with each other. We had a look and de­cided to con­test the claim in court. The judge dis­missed the case against all six and awarded costs against five of them.’ Mr Smyth also high­lighted the cost of tack­ling fraud. ‘If a fraud­ster brings a claim to court and we con­test it, we have to pay our le­gal team. The State can pay for his and if we are awarded costs they usu­ally haven’t got the means to pay them any­way. ‘I can re­call one case in Athlone where a guy claimed he had been struck by a car at a Stop sign. The driver, how­ever, was adamant that the man had jumped on to the bon­net of the car when it was stopped. We went to court, and dis­cov­ered, prior to the hear­ing, that he was in jail for rape.

He was brought to court from prison and when he was in the wit­ness box he couldn’t even re­mem­ber which leg he’d claimed was in­jured. ‘The case was dis­missed but in­cred­i­bly he chose to ap­peal it. We won the ap­peal but the to­tal le­gal costs in­volved were around €40,000. From mem­ory, we were awarded costs, but where was he go­ing to come up with them? So the com­pany had to foot the bill.

‘There have been sug­ges­tions that costs can be de­ducted from a per­son’s so­cial wel­fare pay­ment, but the law states that there is a min­i­mum ba­sic amount that a per­son has to be given in or­der for them to live on it and that no de­duc­tions can be put in place that will bring their in­come below that amount. For fraud­sters, it is like play­ing the lot­tery: if they win, they win big if they lose, they’ve noth­ing to lose.’

Mr Smyth’s squad ex­plores all ar­eas, es­pe­cially so­cial me­dia which of­ten yield a break­through.

‘We had one man from the Trav­el­ling com­mu­nity who claimed he hurt his shoul­der in an ac­ci­dent,’ Mr Smyth said. ‘We had a trawl through YouTube and came across him knock­ing an­other man out in an or­gan­ised bare knuckle fight, and he sup­pos­edly had a badly dam­aged shoul­der. When we showed his so­lic­i­tor the clip the case was qui­etly dropped.’

Mr Smyth be­lieves solic­i­tors could do more. ‘If a claim is bla­tantly ridicu­lous from the start then the so­lic­i­tor should stop it at source, and there is ev­i­dence that par­tic­u­lar law firms tend to spe­cialise in these type of cases.’

Mean­while, fraud­sters ‘know the game’ and will of­ten tar­get vul­ner­a­ble driv­ers, he said. They will, say, spot a lone fe­male driver and jam on the brakes in front of her, forc­ing her to crash into the back of them. They know that she is likely to be so shocked that she may not even want to go to court, and that if she does it’s her word against maybe three or four claimants.’

Although they have had suc­cess since their for­ma­tion three years ago, Aviva crew don’t al­ways win. ‘We had one case where a guy who is an MMA cage fighter, claimed he had sus­tained a se­ri­ous back in­jury at work. We ob­tained film of him fight­ing in a tour­na­ment when he was sup­pos­edly hurt and showed it in ev­i­dence. The guy ad­mit­ted it was him, but told the judge that he had come sec­ond in the tour­na­ment, and that had he been fully fit he would have won the fi­nal.

‘The judge awarded him the money – and we awarded him full marks for in­ge­nu­ity.’

‘Couldn’t re­mem­ber which leg he’d in­jured’ ‘Like play­ing lot­tery… with noth­ing to lose’

Fraud buster: Rob Smyth of Aviva

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