Seriously scary: the ghost broker
On a dark and stormy night, a young driver gave up his long search for affordable car insurance and walked unhappily to the pub. As he was moaning about his troubles, a mysterious figure appeared.
"I can help you find insurance that will beat anything you've seen so far. In fact, I'll offer you a fixed price right now," said the stranger.
He drew out his phone and showed the young driver a shiny website that promised the cheapest car insurance he'd ever seen. The young driver was so desperate, he seized the chance and signed on the dotted line right then and there.
Three days later, he got his insurance certificate in the post and jumped for joy. Three months later, he was pulled over by the police and fined £300 for driving without valid insurance.
The young driver had fallen prey to that most hideous of ghouls: the ghost broker.
AND YOU COULD BE NEXT
The ghost broker
With so many places to get the same product and so many different prices, we all shop around a lot to get the best deal.
This is usually a great way to get your insurance costs down, but sadly the number of ghost brokers has grown to take advantage of the habit - and if you get caught in an insurance scam, it could haunt you for a long time.
Ghost brokers sell fake insurance policies or acquire policies fraudulently and then sell them on for a profit. There are three main car insurance scams aimed at young drivers, and a few ways you might be able to spot them.
A fake policy
This first scam involves completely fraudulent documents. You would be given a fake insurance policy document, which may look genuine but can easily be checked. Use askMID.com to look up whether your car is insured or not.
If you find that you're not insured, call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact the police.
Do not drive your car.
A genuine policy...for now
These lovely scammers will arrange real insurance for you with a genuine insurance company. However, not long after you've been given your policy document, they will cancel the policy. That means you'll be driving around uninsured - which is illegal.
You are responsible for your insurance, so if you have any doubts at all, check you're insured with askMID.com. This scam would mean that at first you WOULD appear as insured, so check again later.
An underwriter works out your premium for the insurance company you'll buy it from. ingenie's underwriters are Ageas, RSA and Covea.
If you find that you're not insured, look up the underwriter on your policy document with the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB) and tell them what's happened.
Then call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact the police on 111.
Do not drive your car.
An invalid policy
This is another genuine policy, except the ghost broker will have supplied the insurance company with false information. For example, they might have insured you at a different address or with the wrong age to make the premium lower.
Although this is genuine insurance, the details are false. That means the policy was acquired fraudulently and is therefore not valid.
Again, this is your responsibility as a motorist, so if anything looks weird about your policy document, CHECK. There is nothing to stop you contacting the insurer that issued the policy document to ask them about the certificate you've been given.
If the insurance company confirms that the ghost brokers has provided them with false details, you will probably be put in touch with their underwriter. You can also look up their information with the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB). Then call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or contact the police on 111.
Do not drive your car.
'Brokers' posting on student or money saving forums
Forums and blogs are great places to share information and get tips on finding good deals. However, be wary of any company or financial adviser that gets involved in discussions.
Many insurers advertise on student sites, but this will be in the form of a banner or sponsored listing - not a random post or personal message.
An offer that looks too good to be true
Finding affordable insurance can be really hard for a young driver, so it's tempting to grab what seems to be the best deal going without looking into the details.
If you find a policy that's way lower than anything you've seen in other places or has a guaranteed fixed rate, take the time to check the details and ask your parents to have a look too.
It might look like it'll save you money but if you're taken in by a fraud, it'll cost you a lot more than you bargained for.
Lots of insurance frauds involve well-known company branding. The ghost brokers act as if they're middlemen for big name insurers, borrowing their trustworthiness with stolen logos and pictures.
Getting in touch with the insurer your new broker friend claims to deal with is easy. You can find them on the Financial Services Register or just contact their customer services team.
You should also keep an eye out for people using only mobile phones or email - would a real insurer do that?
Ghost brokers have even been known to use IM services like Blackberry BBM and Snapchat to approach potential victims.
Some scammers invest in legitimate-looking websites, but that shouldn't be enough to convince you.
Run their name through the Financial Services Register before you make another move.
What it could mean for you
If you buy a fake policy, you'll be driving around uninsured. And that's illegal.
Being caught driving without valid insurance can lead to you having your car seized, paying a fixed fine of £300 and potentially up to £5000, and paying for any damage you might have caused while uninsured. Then you'll have to buy real insurance on top of all that!
How to avoid being scammed
- Go direct to an insurer - you can check them out on the Financial Services Register
- Use a comparison website
- Look up an insurer's underwriter on the Motor Insurers' Bureau (MIB)
- Check Financial Services Register if someone claims to be a financial adviser
- Don't arrange car insurance with a guy you met in the pub
The moral of this ghost story? Be VERY afraid of car insurance scams.