Vehicle damage patterns act as fraud indicators in staged accidents

As part of its sponsorship of the 2019 Institute of Traffic Accident Investigators [ITAI] Crash Test and Research Day, e2e Total Loss Vehicle Management [e2e] arranged for specific research to be undertaken into low speed, fraudulent, staged accidents.  Analysis from the crash tests has shown how the forensic examination of vehicle damage patterns can be used to identify staged accidents and support insurers in detecting and repudiating fraudulent ‘Crash for Cash’ claims.  Anecdotally, when forensic examiners are instructed on appropriately assessed claims, the instruction to success ratio in terms of identifying fraud is 1:2.  Currently, however, forensic examiners are not typically instructed on low speed crash claims.

A staged accident is where fraudsters crash their own vehicles together to mimic damage from a genuine crash.  They then go on to make an insurance claim fabricating the details of the accident. Together with vehicle damage, the claim may include personal injury, the need for car hire at excessive daily rates, recovery and storage.   The Crash Test Day research carefully replicated some staged accidents and genuine accidents using identical vehicles and accident scenarios in order to compare the resulting damage patterns.  The differing damage patterns showed clear evidence of a genuine collision and a staged collision.

Insurers can draw on their standard fraud indicators, together with available engineering evidence at FNOL in order to root out potential staged accidents.  e2e is offering to facilitate training for FNOL claims handlers and vehicle accidental damage assessors, provided by the ITAI, at its member sites across the UK or insurer offices.  The training will equip attendees to understand what to look for in the claim account related to profile of damage, location, angle of engagement and numerous other engineering indicators, in order to identify potential Crash for Cash and confidently instruct a forensic examination of the vehicle(s).

Neil Joslin, Chief Operating Officer at e2e said: “Our insurer clients are challenged by rising motor claims costs and motor fraud.  According to the latest ABI statistics, motor claims fraud cost insurers £629 million in 2018.  We saw an opportunity, through our partnership with the ITAI, to facilitate crash tests that would interrogate low impact collisions and we hoped to provide critical insights into staged accidents.  We are delighted that the research has highlighted claims fraud indicators that can be of value to the insurance counter fraud community.”

Chair of the ITAI, Jon Stubbs, comments: “We were pleased to conduct this research for e2e and demonstrate some of the engineering fraud indicators available to insurers to combat ‘Crash for Cash’ fraud.  Our members are forensic experts who will examine vehicle surface damage and contact points together with structural damage.  Much can be learned from the vehicle’s post-crash condition and additional consideration is given to many aspects such as vehicle dynamics, impact speeds, air bag and seatbelt pre-tensioner deployment to assist with consistency of claimed circumstances and occupancy.  The key is instructing the forensic examination as early as possible in the claims process to avoid loss or deterioration of evidence.”

In a typical staged accident, the claimant will state they were established on the road and travelling straight ahead normally, when a vehicle pulled out of a side road and hits the side of their vehicle.  When staging the collision the fraudsters will drive one vehicle into the side of another whilst it is stationary.  The research shows that the damage this creates is a localised area of impact and vertically aligned contact marks on the claimant vehicle.  These vertical marks indicate that the struck vehicle was stationary at the time of impact.  In a genuine collision there would be a broad area of scuff marks which extend from the initial point of contact along the length of the vehicle in a front to rear direction.  The damage patterns are therefore not consistent with the claimant’s account of the accident and indicate a staged accident.

Left: Staged impact claimant vehicle; Right: Genuine impact claimant vehicle

Further evidence can be sourced from the defendant vehicle in the claim.  The contact marks on the striking vehicle in a staged accident will also be localised with no horizontal abrasion marks extending across its front.  In a genuine collision, there should be horizontal contact and abrasion marks extending from one side of the vehicle to the other, depending on the direction of travel of the claimant vehicle. The direction in which these contact and abrasion markings were caused should also be a consideration, as they may not travel in the right direction and indicate unrelated damage, or that the collision did not occur in the manner that has been suggested.  Such analysis is specialised and outside the scope of most damage assessors.

In a more sophisticated staged accident, the fraudster will try to create horizontal contact abrasion marking, to support the claimant vehicle was moving at the time of impact, by driving the claimant vehicle across the front of the defendant vehicle whilst they are still in contact.  This tactic can be identified because there are multiple impacts which create two areas of defined damage with horizontal contact marks overlaying the original vertical contact marks.

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