horwich farrelly

You have a new follower: the role of social media in tackling insurance fraud

December, 14, 2016

The following article was published in Insurance Post on 13 December 2016.

With an estimated 66% of UK adults holding at least one social media account* many brands see this as a huge opportunity to engage with and better understand their customers. For the insurance industry social media analysis is increasingly being deployed as a vital weapon in the fight against insurance fraud.

A number of high profile cases fought by Horwich Farrelly have heavily depended on evidence gained from the fraudsters’ social media activities. Indeed, in two of the recent cases – involving Miss England contestant, Amy Laban, and Northwich Victoria player, Gary Burnett – both claimants were eventually found guilty of contempt of court based on damning evidence Horwich Farrelly’s Intelligence team obtained from their public Twitter feeds.

social media analysis is increasingly being deployed as a vital weapon in the fight against insurance fraud

Social media analysis is increasingly being deployed as a vital weapon in the fight against insurance fraud

But although social media profiles can offer insurers an important way to gather intelligence on claimants, it is vital that any searches and analysis are carried out in a legal and ethical manner, with due regard to any privacy restrictions and the DPA.

Recent news coverage in particular has highlighted how careful insurers need to be when considering using an individual’s social media profile for commercial purposes. In terms of using social media profiles for counter fraud purposes  the law is somewhat more open to interpretation, however insurers must still be able to prove that any information obtained  is directly relevant and proportionate to the claim.

Claimants’ social media fails

2016 has seen a number of cases where the appropriate use of social media evidence has proved pivotal in bringing fraudsters to account.

One is the case of martial artist Rafal Sikorski and his Playboy model partner Anna Radomska who were involved in a suspected staged accident in London. The pair submitted claims for neck, knee, shoulder and back injuries worth more than £13,000. Given the concerns about this being a staged incident, our counter fraud team launched an investigation and found multiple examples of evidence on Facebook and elsewhere on the internet that the pair had been fit and well within weeks of the incident.

Facebook posts featuring Rafal Sikorski

Investigations revealed Sikorski had posted on Facebook about competing in a martial arts tournament whilst allegedly injured

This included both claimants taking part in intensive physical training in Phuket, Thailand with Sikorski competing and winning an extreme martial arts contest in the Phillippines – despite his alleged injuries. After considering the claimants’ accounts alongside the damning evidence gathered, the judge was not satisfied that the collision or the injuries were genuine. Both claims were found to be fundamentally dishonest with the claimants ordered to pay insurer Liberty’s costs of £9,892.

Earlier this year, investigations by Horwich Farrelly resulted in semi-professional footballer, Gary Burnett, being handed a four month suspended sentence after being found guilty of faking a £2,000 whiplash claim. Burnett had been involved in a minor bump at a drive-through restaurant, and submitted a claim to insurer, Aviva, stating he was unable to play for his football team. However, our counter fraud team discovered tweets Burnett had made about a match he’d played the day after the incident. Online match reports and other social media posts revealed he had continued to play throughout the prognosis period.

After submitting the evidence to Burnett’s solicitors, he discontinued the claim. However, taking a zero tolerance approach to fraud, Aviva took the matter further. Subsequently Wigan County Court ruled the claim to be fundamentally dishonest, ordering Burnett to pay costs of over £11,000. He was later found guilty of being in contempt of court.

Proceed with Caution

Searching a consumer’s social media profile constitutes a form of ‘surveillance’, which is often a contentious issue, and must therefore only ever be used where truly justified. Insurers must do their research before carrying out any surveillance online, and must not take it lightly even though this type of monitoring is now easier than ever, given GPS and location services are available on smartphones.

If other methods of gathering evidence are available, these will almost always be preferable and looked upon more favourably by the court. This is not only due to a perceived breach of personal privacy, even when posts are made public, but also because social profiles can be hacked and fake posts made in the claimant’s name. What insurers must keep in mind is that the purpose of this surveillance is to report fairly and honestly.

*Source: OFCOM

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