Lancaster University

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Insurance Industry Hoodwinked by Polite Fraudsters

06/30/2008 17:18:16

Insurance companies are looking for some wrong aspects of behaviour when trying to spot fraudulent claims according to a Lancaster University researcher.

Surveys by the Association of British Insurers show that two thirds of people would dishonestly claim if they thought they would not be detected. PhD student Marek Palasinski from the Department of Psychology discovered that the industry’s assumptions about fraudsters’ rudeness and aggression are assisting dishonest claimants who are more likely to be polite.

Insurance staff handling claims are given a list of indicators, some of which categorise the fraudster as aggressive, hesitant and evasive but his research found that their behaviour is unlikely to differ much from genuine claimants.

He questioned 25 male drivers to imagine how a dishonest motorist would make a claim.

One man said: “I would think they would be polite and create a story that is feasible, and express regret that they are making a claim.”

Another said: “They might try and seek sympathy, laying on a big story how they lost so much, and injury perhaps.”

Mr Palasinski said: “Associating bad manners with fraudulent behaviour appears to be incorrect as drivers seem pretty well aware of what telltale features insurance companies are on the look out for when diagnosing potentially suspicious claims. In this light, the indicators might actually mislead the handlers and assist dishonest claimants.”

The drivers questioned even saw sounding casual as creating the right atmosphere for committing an imaginary fraud.

Another said: “If I worked for an insurance company, if someone was aggressive down the phone I’d be more likely to remember them, so if somebody’s calm and relaxed on the phone they would become more anonymous.”

His research also uncovered a perception of the insurance industry as greedy, with fraudulent claims seen as a way of clawing money back from uncaring corporations.

One driver said: “You know if it’s under a certain figure, they can handle it quite cheaply for themselves….doesn’t really cost them anything you know.”

Mr Palasinski said he was surprised by the interviewees’ lack of moral reservations about other people who make dishonest claims.

He said: “Not only does cheating insurance companies appear to be acceptable, but it is also seen as a fair practice of settling old scores with big corporations viewed as unscrupulous and evil. This implies that insurance companies still face a long road in improving their public image and discouraging drivers from making dishonest claims.”