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Real or fake! Bogus auto-insurance documents flood the market as scam widens

Published:Sunday | February 15, 2015 | 2:00 AMRyon Jones
A fake insurance cover note seized by the police.
A fake insurance cover note seized by the police.
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If, God forbid, you were to meet in an accident and the other party offers to bear the full cost of repair without reference to the police or an insurer, you could be dealing with a motorist with fake insurance documents.

Scammers across the island are offering fake motor vehicle insurance documents for as little as $13,000, and hundreds of motorists are taking up the offer.

A Sunday Gleaner probe has found areas where, for between $13,000 and $16,000, motorists can get authentic-looking comprehensive insurance documents for any make or model motor vehicle for one year.

"This document can pass any police, but don't meet in a no accident, as you can't claim," said one man, who offered to insure a motor car owned by a member of our news team recently. "You can use it if police stop you, but mi a beg you no meet in a no accident," reiterated the man, as he boasted of the number of motorists he has "helped" over the years.

The police are well aware of this fraudulent scheme, and between July last year and the end of January, they have discovered 43 cases of fraudulent insurance cover notes, resulting in 18 convictions, while 25 persons are still before the court.

Last month, the Major Organised Crime and Anti-corruption Agency also reported that it has made a significant dent in a criminal network involved in the production of fraudulent motor vehicle insurance documents with the arrest of two persons, including one believed to be the mastermind.

A large quantity of driver's licence applications, driver's licences, motor vehicle titles, fitness certificates and cover notes belonging to insurance companies, along with items used in the production of motor vehicle insurance documents, were seized during that operation.

According to head of the Police Traffic Division, Senior Superintendent Calvin Allen, while investigators are yet to determine the source of all the fraudulent documents, they have arrested motorists who have all claimed they obtained the documents from legitimate insurance companies.

"Various insurance companies like BCIC and Advantage General are some of the insurance companies that these motorists have purported to have got documents from," said Allen.

"We then make contact with these insurance companies to verify the authenticity of the documents and this is where we are finding that this is not so, because when they check their system, the numbers and things that are given, they don't have them in their system," added Allen, as he declared that the cops have intensified attempts to find the source of these documents.

Clamping down on the practice cannot happen soon enough for the Insurance Association of Jamaica (IAJ), which estimates that more than 100,000 uninsured vehicles are on the nation's streets.

"It may very well be that the police are trying extremely hard and I have no reason to doubt that, but at the end of the day, the problem has not abated," IAJ president, Karen Bhoorasingh, told The Sunday Gleaner.

"We have about 300,000 vehicles insured and there is an estimate that there are more than 400,000 vehicles operative on the road," added Bhoorasingh, as she noted that the issue of persons bypassing legitimate insurance companies and purchasing fraudulent documents is a long-standing one.

"I suppose there might be the view that the problem is increasing. It is not a new problem, where persons are not purchasing insurance from legitimate insurance companies, but are striving to purchase fraudulent insurance where they just buy a certificate or a cover note. So they are just purchasing documentation to 'prove' to the police that they are insured."

Bhoorasingh, who is also president of Guardian General Insurance Jamaica Limited, argued that the companies have taken several steps to address the problem, but persons continue to find ways to beat the system.

"We have, over the years, implemented various measures to combat this type of fraud. We have used paper that has various security features, so that the police will be able to identify when the cover is genuine or not. But as technology increases and improves, the ability of the fraudsters to seemingly accurately reproduce the documentation increases," said Bhoorasingh.

The IAJ president charged that persons in the public-transportation sector are among the main clients of those selling fraudulent insurance documents.

"Lots of these uninsured vehicles are part of the public-transportation sector and it means that there are persons out there who are not protected. So when an accident occurs, they (passengers) have no compensation to get," noted Bhoorasingh.

"So when these persons who are driving with fraudulent insurance meet in accidents and Ö persons who are injured or have their properties damaged go to the various insurance companies to claim, Ö it is then discovered that the insurance is not in place, and consequently, those persons are not entitled to compensation."

The traffic police head agreed that public-transport operators are heavily involved in the racket.

"What I can confirm is that there are persons out there, especially some of those in the public-transportation sector, who are using those fraudulent insurance, and so our efforts out there are beyond just compliance with the RTA (Road Traffic Act), but also now to be looking out for the authenticity of the documents.

"They are moving members of the public, and so they ought to ensure that their documents are relevant to the type of role they are playing. Some of the very buses out there that have red plates, the passengers feel that everything is legitimate, only to be in an accident and there is nothing to get," noted Allen.

"So the owners of these vehicles are the persons that we are really focusing our attention on because if you own the vehicle, you really ought to be able to account in full for everything about the vehicle," added Allen.

ryon.jones@gleanerjm.com