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. 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 fraudsters 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 damages that never occurred, and so obtain payment with little or no initial cost.
The types of insurance fraud that exist are as diverse as the types of insurance policies that are available. Some of the major areas in which insurance fraud occurs are in the life, health care, automobile, and property insurance industries.
An example of life insurance fraud is the John Darwin disappearance case, an ongoing investigation into the 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.
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 damages. 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.