Putting the brakes on 'slam on cons'

This article was published in Commercial Motor magazine – November 2011

‘Cash for crash’ is now endemic in the UK, with fraudulent road traffic accidents estimated to cost insurers £2billion a year, adding £40 to every insurance policy on average. Higher insurance premiums aren’t the only hazard though. Victims who drive their vehicle for work may lose income if their vehicle is damaged, or worse, they could be seriously injured.

CV drivers are at a particular risk because the scammers know that they are more likely to be insured.  Also, because they are heavier, trucks are likely to cause more damage.  But what do they need to know and how can they protect themselves from being a victim?

What is a ‘slam on con’?

While there are numerous forms of ‘cash for crash’ fraud, CV operators are particularly vulnerable to the ‘induced accident’ - often referred to as a ‘slam on’ fraud. This dangerous practice involves a car braking suddenly, causing the victim’s vehicle to collide with the rear of the fraudster’s motor. The fraudsters then submit claims for personal injuries and other losses. Although this happens every day across the country, most cases go undetected and the claims are paid out.

In many cases, fraudsters target roads where they know there will be a high volume of CVs – such as near depots or warehouses.  However, such criminals area also opportunistic and sometimes it is the unfortunate case of a driver being in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

How the fraudsters operate  

The way the scammers carry out induced accidents is varied. Often, they will commit the offence at a roundabout, pulling partly onto the road but then slamming on the brakes for no reason.

Other times, two cars will work together to make the incident look more authentic. For example, a stooge car will pull onto the roundabout, giving the fraudsters more of a reason to justify braking.

Sometimes, a stooge car will simply swerve off into a side road, giving the fraudsters the excuse that they need to slam on their brakes. There are even cases when those involved disconnect their brake lights so that other motorists aren’t given any warning of when they are about to come to a halt.

Big bucks

The money involved in these schemes is substantial. It would not be unusual to have four or five individuals each claiming for whiplash, as well as a written off vehicle, a £10,000 hire claim and legal fees costing up to £50,000.

There are hundreds of these cases every year. Because of the way they are set up, it would be easier to defend cases if the victims knew about the scam, how it worked and what they can do if they find themselves in this situation. 

People who orchestrate slam on cons are usually involved with more than one case, with some selling the claims on to solicitors. The individuals driving the vehicles are often experienced at inducing a CV to collide with the rear of their vehicle and are recruited specifically for that purpose.

The people who claim they were in the car and were injured are also enlisted by the same person who set up the fraud. More often than not, these people, known as ‘phantom passengers’, were not actually in the car. To maintain authenticity, they will normally visit their GP, hospital or walk in centre in the days following the accident to claim they are suffering whiplash. In these cases, there may have been only one or two people in the vehicle, but claims are made for four or five.

Show slam on cons the red light

So how do we fight this? For defence lawyers, proving a slam on con is difficult and they need a witness who has documented the evidence thoroughly in the following ways: 

  • Picture perfect: Whenever a driver is involved in a road traffic accident, they should, as long as it is safe to do so, take photographs or videos of the scene. These should include images of everyone present to help verify who was actually involved in the collision.
  •  Jot it down: If it’s not possible to take photographs or videos, then the driver should make a note as soon as they can about everything they can remember about the accident, such as vehicle type and colour, registration number, how many occupants were in the car and description of occupants. 
  • Write it down, not off: It’s common for fraudsters to damage their vehicle after the incident so they can claim it was written off, justifying spurious and expensive hire car charges. To tackle this, the victim should take close up photographs or videos of the vehicles, or write down a clear description of any damage that was actually made – or not, as the case might be.
  • Red handed: Some fraudsters create ‘crib sheets’, which contain all of their details so they can conveniently pass it on to the victim. Drivers should hold on to any handwritten evidence given to them, as this can be used to link the fraudsters if they have been involved with multiple cases.
  • Witness this: The driver should get the names and contact details of any genuine witnesses at the scene and ask them to note, for future recollection, how many people were involved in the incident and the circumstances in which it occurred.
  • Police reports: It’s also a good idea to call the police and ask them to note down that the other driver appeared to brake for no apparent reason and that the circumstances were suspicious.

Communication is the key

While it is important for motorists to remember all of the advice above, it’s crucial that all road users are told about slam on cons. More often than not, drivers do not know they have been a victim of a scam. They could be shocked and concerned that they were to blame for the accident – and it is this confusion that the fraudster relies on. The commotion at the scene can put the fraudster at an advantage as it prevents the driver from properly assessing the situation and can lead them to believe that they were at fault and the claim is then paid.

Transport operators should have a procedure and culture where drivers are encouraged to tell their managers if they believe they have been a victim of a fraud. The management must ensure that this is accurately reported to the insurance company or claims department. All too often, drivers don’t report their concerns fully, or if they do, they don’t get reported back due to lack of education or a breakdown in communications.

By teaching drivers about this type of insurance scam, they can help insurers and lawyers put a firm brake on slam on cons.