If you’ve ever been in a car accident, you know that it can be distressing, confusing and chaotic. In the aftermath of a collision, you’re relying on the people around you to be fair and honest, whether it’s the person in the other car, the tow-truck driver towing your vehicle, or the auto body shop you’ve trusted to repair your vehicle. Unfortunately, there are a few scams drivers should be aware of – and you’ll be most vulnerable to them right after a collision.
Whenever you’re behind the wheel, you’re hoping to avoid an accident – so it’s hard to imagine that someone would purposely try to cause one. The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) describes three types of staged collisions:
- one in which all drivers are aware of the scheme;
- one in which there is no collision, just the associated paperwork and false claim;
- one in which the drivers and passengers in other vehicles are unaware that the accident is being staged.
To avoid being an innocent participant in a staged collision, maintain a good distance between you and the car ahead of you – since they could brake suddenly in hopes that you’ll hit them from behind. If you’re in an accident, take photos of both cars so the other driver can’t cause more damage later. Finally, if you do suspect you are the victim of a staged collision, notify the police, your insurance provider, or the IBC.
After an accident, you might be relieved to see a tow-truck that just happened to be in the area. Keep in mind, though, that there are a few ways towing services can scam unsuspecting drivers. First, the tow-truck driver could be party to a staged collision – which is why they were nearby. More likely, though, the driver is what the Financial Services Commission of Ontario (FSCO) calls a chaser – someone who swoops in after an accident to bring the damaged car to a specific repair shop in return for a referral fee. In those cases, shops often exaggerate the price of repairs to reclaim the costs of the referral fee and make some extra money. The FSCO has a few recommendations to avoid this scam. First, look to see if the truck is affiliated with a reputable company or, if you live in a large municipality, if it has a municipal license number on its side. Second, be wary if the driver recommends a particular repair shop without being asked, and remember that you have the right to decide where your vehicle is towed. Finally, carefully read and understand anything the driver asks you to sign.
Crooked Auto Body Shops
The third collision scam to be aware of is probably the most common, and it happens at the auto body shop that is repairing your vehicle. A recent investigation uncovered fraud in nine out of 10 cases of cars being serviced at shops in Ontario. Scams included tow-truck drivers billing for towing and storage that didn’t happen, drivers being asked to sign blank work orders and cars being maliciously damaged. And while the investigators estimated the total damage to the 10 vehicles at $30,000, the auto body shops charged double – $61,000. This is why it’s important to find a shop that you trust. Your insurance provider, friends and family might have some solid recommendations. In addition, do not sign blank work orders, ask for a detailed estimate and make sure your insurance provider is willing to cover the cost of the recommended services before the repairs begin. Finally, get a detailed bill after your car has been serviced and make sure that you actually received all the services and parts that were charged.
Next time you’re paying your car insurance bill, consider this: the IBC estimates that insurance fraud costs Ontario drivers an estimated $1.6 billion each year. That means that you pay an extra $236 a year to cover the illegal activities of fraudsters. While you can’t guarantee that you’ll never be targeted in an insurance scam, you now know how to identify and prevent a few common crimes.