Insurance fraud is any act committed with the intent to fraudulently obtain payment from an insurer. Insurance fraud has existed ever since the beginning of insurance as a commercial enterprise. Fraudulent claims account for a significant portion of all claims received by insurers, and cost billions of dollars annually worldwide. Types of insurance fraud are very diverse, and occur in all areas of insurance. Insurance crimes also range in severity, from slightly exaggerating claims to deliberately causing accidents or damage. Fraudulent activities also affect the lives of innocent people, both directly through accidental or purposeful injury or damage, and indirectly as these crimes cause insurance premiums to be higher. Insurance fraud poses a very significant problem, and governments and other organizations are making efforts to deter such activities.
The chief motive in all insurance crimes is financial profit. Insurance contracts provide both the insured and the insurer with opportunities for exploitation. One reason that this opportunity arises is in the case of over-insurance, when the amount insured is greater than the actual value of the property insured. This condition can be very difficult to avoid, especially since an insurance provider might sometimes encourage it in order to obtain greater profits. This allows fraudsters to make profits by destroying their property because the payment they receive from their insurers is of greater value than the property they destroy.
Insurance companies are also susceptible to fraud because false insurance claims can be made to appear like ordinary claims. This allows fraudsters to file claims for damage that never occurred, and so obtain payment with little or no initial cost. The most common form of insurance fraud is inflating of loss.
LOSSES DUE TO INSURANCE FRAUD
It is virtually impossible to determine an exact value for the amount of money stolen through insurance fraud. Insurance fraud is designed to be undetectable, unlike visible crimes such as robbery or murder. As such, the number of cases of insurance fraud that are detected is much lower than the number of acts that are actually committed. The best that can be done is to provide an estimate for the losses that insurers suffer due to insurance fraud. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that in 2006 a total of about $80 billion was lost in the United States due to insurance fraud. According to estimates by the Insurance Information Institute, insurance fraud accounts for about 10% of the property/casualty insurance industry’s incurred losses and loss adjustment expenses.
The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association estimates that 3% of the healthcare industry’s expenditures in the United States are due to fraudulent activities, amounting to a cost of about $51 billion. Other estimates attribute as much as 10% of the total healthcare spending in the United States to fraud—about $115 billion annually. In the United Kingdom, the Insurance Fraud Bureau estimates that the loss due to insurance fraud in the United Kingdom is about £1.5 billion ($3.08 billion), causing a 5% increase in insurance premiums. The Insurance Bureau of Canada estimates that personal injury fraud in Canada costs about C$500 million annually. In Nigeria, and many other developing countries, there are no available/reliable statistics on how much is lost by insurers as a result of fraudulent claims.
TYPES OF INSURANCE FRAUD
HARD VS. SOFT FRAUD
Insurance fraud can be classified as either hard fraud or soft fraud.
Hard fraud occurs when someone deliberately plans or invents a loss, such as a collision, auto theft, or fire that is covered by their insurance policy in order to receive payment for damage. Criminal rings are sometimes involved in hard fraud schemes that can steal millions of dollars.
Soft fraud, which is far more common than hard fraud, is sometimes also referred to as opportunistic fraud. This type of fraud consists of policyholders exaggerating otherwise legitimate claims. For example, when involved in a collision an insured person might claim more damage than was really done to his or her car. Soft fraud can also occur when, while obtaining a new insurance policy, an individual misreports previous or existing conditions in order to obtain a lower premium on their insurance policy.
An example of life insurance fraud is the John Darwin disappearance case, a faked death of British former teacher and prison officer, John Darwin, who turned up alive in December 2007, five years after he was thought to have died in a canoeing accident. Darwin was reported as “missing” after failing to report to work following a canoeing trip on March 21, 2002. He reappeared on December 1, 2007, claiming to have no memory of the past five years.
The most common perpetrators of healthcare insurance fraud are healthcare providers. One reason for this, according to David Hyman, a Professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, is that the historically prevailing attitude in the medical profession is one of “fidelity to patients”. This incentive can lead to fraudulent practices such as billing insurers for treatments that are not covered by the patient’s insurance policy. To do this, physicians often bill for a different service, which is covered by the policy, than that which was rendered.
Another motivation for insurance fraud in the healthcare industry, just as in all other types of insurance fraud, is a desire for financial gain. Physicians use several fraudulent techniques to achieve this end. These can include “up-coding ”or “upgrading,” which involve billing for more expensive treatments than those actually provided; providing and subsequently billing for treatments that are not medically necessary; scheduling extra visits for patients; referring patients to another physician when no further treatment is actually necessary; “phantom billing,” or billing for services not rendered; and “ganging,” or billing for services to family members or other individuals who are accompanying the patient but who did not personally receive any services.
It is estimated that 21% to 36% of auto-insurance claims contained elements of suspected fraud. There is a wide variety of schemes used to defraud automobile insurance providers. These ploys can differ greatly in complexity and severity.
Examples of soft auto-insurance fraud can include:
- filing more than one claim for a single injury,
- filing claims for injuries not related to an automobile accident,
- misreporting wage losses due to injuries,
- reporting higher costs for car repairs than those that were actually paid.
Hard auto-insurance fraud can include activities such as
- staging automobile collisions,
- filing claims when the claimant was not actually involved in the accident,
- submitting claims for medical treatments that were not received,
- inventing injuries.
- when claimants falsely report their vehicle as stolen.
Soft fraud accounts for the majority of fraudulent auto-insurance claims.
Possible motivations for this can include obtaining payment that is worth more than the value of the property destroyed, or to destroy and subsequently receive payment for goods that could not otherwise be sold. According to Alfred Manes, the majority of property insurance crimes involve arson. One reason for this is that any evidence that a fire was started by arson is often destroyed by the fire itself.