The fraudulent practice is often used to target more vulnerable groups such as younger drivers or foreign nationals who don't speak fluent English. With the issue becoming more widespread, consumers should be wary when taking out any insurance cover.
We all know how much preparation is required in advance of taking out an insurance policy, oftentimes to consumers' frustration.
Between making sure you’re not overpaying to having the right level of cover in place, the research process can take some time.
However, the latest insurance scam is preying on consumer’s desire to find the best deal, but if it’s too good to be true it probably is!
If you haven’t heard of the term ‘ghost broking’ by now, well, consider yourself one of the lucky ones. But with the technology and techniques used by scammers becoming more advanced it’s more important than ever to be aware of how you too could be duped.
What is a ghost broker?
Put simply, a ghost broker is an unregulated intermediary who poses as an insurance broker to sell invalid insurance policies to customers.
Ghost brokers frequently target those looking to take out car insurance but not always.
How does the scam work?
The scam works whereby a ghost broker purchases a policy from a legitimate insurance company using false information and then doctors it before selling it on to a consumer.
The scammer will then take payment and cancel the insurance policy, thus leaving the ‘insured’ party unknowingly without cover.
Other scammers simply choose to replicate the look and feel of a legitimate insurance policy without having an actual policy in place, all the while taking an applicant’s money and then scarpering.
Regardless of whether an actual insurance policy ever existed, the scammed consumer will often be misled by the fake documentation that’s designed to imitate reputable insurance companies.
Ghost broking is an insidious scam and incredibly harmful for consumers as many people are left without cover unknowingly and only finding out at the worst possible moment, when they actually go to make a claim.
How widespread is it?
At the end of April it was reported that three people were charged with motor insurance fraud after an investigation by the Garda Special Investigations Unit found €6 million worth of motor insurance policies were fraudulently obtained.
In this particular case one of the defendants was named as a director of a named company that operated as a “ghost broker”, proving just how stealthy these operations can be and how easily a rational consumer can be defrauded.
The ongoing trial is part of a wider police investigation into ghost broking in the State.
Insurance Ireland welcomed the decision at the time and commented that ‘although it is difficult to accurately determine the prevalence of ghost broking, this high-profile criminal investigation highlights that it is a persistent problem in the Irish market.’
‘Furthermore’, it went on to say at the time, ‘with more consumers searching for competitively-priced insurance, the issue is not going away.’
Recently published research by Liberty Insurance also showed that in the first quarter of 2021 70% of motor insurance customers in Ireland had never heard of the scam.
More worryingly 39% of those aware of the practice said they have been directly approached by a ghost broker, either in person or via social media.
Who is at risk?
While all consumers are potentially at risk by this fraudulent practice, ghost brokers tend to target those seeking car insurance, in particular higher-risk drivers, with the lure of cheaper premiums.
The practice is also used to target both younger and older drivers who are seen to be vulnerable through either lack of knowledge or who may not be attuned to such online scams.
Unlike various types of motor insurance fraud where drivers make false claims, with ghost broking it’s the driver or policyholder who is the victim.
If you’re a driver looking for car insurance, check out our guide on 12 things to consider when taking out car insurance for more helpful tips.
How to know if you’re dealing with a ghost broker
The practices employed by these criminals are often advertised on social media and different online fora.
They also commonly operate within the confines of certain social media pages or groups and may use a personal email address and mobile phone number as they have no registered business address or customer service landline.
All these should be telltale signs of fraud but if you do find yourself getting to a more advanced stage make sure to never hand over any money, in particular cash, as ghost brokers will often look for large cash deposits upfront.
As one can imagine, this has potentially devastating consequences for vulnerable families and individuals who may need to rely on a particular policy should the worst happen.
Considering just how prevalent the practice is, it’s clear that the problem of ghost broking is fairly endemic in the Irish market and something that all consumers should be aware of, and not only that but how to keep themselves safe.
How to find a legitimate insurance broker
When looking for a legitimate broker, there are a few key things to note.
- To operate as a financial services provider in Ireland, companies need to be registered with the Central Bank of Ireland.
- If you’re considering taking out any type of insurance policy you can check whether a broker is legitimate by consulting the online register from the Central Bank of Ireland.
- Needless to say, if a purported firm or company says they can get you a really good deal it’s more often than not too good to be true and one check online can prove that.
- Consumers can also consult insurancebroker.ie from Brokers Ireland for more information. The site has a handy search tool providing details of local member insurance brokers.
For more information on ghost broking in general and how to safeguard yourself and others you can find out more with this public advice from Insurance Ireland.
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