'A seagull stole my watch': fraudulent insurance claims exposed

Simon Ward
by Lovemoney Staff Simon Ward on 22 February 2013  |  Comments 13 comments

A new study has looked at bogus insurance claims, revealing some unlikely claims and profiling the most likely fraudsters.

'A seagull stole my watch': fraudulent insurance claims exposed

An expensive watch allegedly stolen by a seagull and a fallen flat-screen TV that managed to smash glass all over the floor, despite not containing any glass, are just two examples of fraudulent insurance claims featured in a new study.

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth looked at 40,000 claims compiled by claims investigators VFM Services.

Their research led them to conclude that the most common insurance fraudster is aged 31-50, has never made a false claim before and is claiming for £500 or less. They are typically claiming for accidental damage to a TV, mobile phone or computer.

The academics say that claims for computers, mobile phones, jewellery and carpets peak in early autumn. They believe one reason for this is an expensive summer holiday “has given them a motive to invent or exaggerate a claim to help pay off bills”.

And over four in five fraudulent claims are for accidental damage, which means the claimant doesn’t have to get a police report. The main reason for this is if someone claims for theft and the claim is found to be fraudulent, it can lead to another charge of perverting the course of justice or wasting police time.

Professor Mark Button said the research shows that people are more likely to commit fraud if they feel they aren’t asking for too much money.

He added: “People who try to commit insurance fraud are highly likely to think a little crime won’t hurt anyone, and are therefore opportunists rather than being serious professional criminals.”

The Association of British Insurers (ABI) conducted some research of its own, which found that two-thirds of people might make a false claim, think it’s acceptable to make a false claim, or would exaggerate the cost of something that has been lost or stolen.

The ABI claims insurance fraud adds an extra £50 a year to the average insurance bill.

More on insurance

The lies that are driving up insurance costs

Injury claims 'add £2.4m a day to motor insurance premiums'

Your rights if you're hit by an uninsured driver

The most common home insurance claims

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Comments (13)

  • Aitken B
    Love rating 146
    Aitken B said

    There is no excuse for fraudulent claims and Insurance companies and the police/CPS must take action against fraudsters.

    This should result in lower insurance premiums - whetheror not is does is down to the honesty and integrity of the insurance companies.

    However. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander and it is my experience that insurance companies themselves are guilty of blatant fraud and if that were not bad enough the Insurance Ombudsman supports them in what can only be described as their criminal action.


    I was involved in an accident in my car - not my fault, the other driver accepted liability.

    I reported the incident to my insurance company as required by the contract but stressed I was NOT making a claim.

    The insurance comany argued and argued about the extent of liability so the issue was not resolved before my insurance renewal time.

    My insurance company reduce my NCD ftom 15 years to 3 years and wanted to charge me a much higher premium. When I challenged this and they said it was because I had made a claim. I had not but they refused to change their position

    So they were attempting to get money from me on the basis of a false statement.

    In anyone's language that is fraud or attempted fraud, just as serious.

    The Insurance Ombudsman supported them saying that all insurance companies operate that way.

    They should be prosecuted not supported by the IO.

    So let's see the insurance companies clean up thier own act as well as pursuing fraudsters.

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • shortchanged
    Love rating 18
    shortchanged said

    I would be interested to know how they reckoned the watch was not stolen by a seagull. Living by the sea I know just how good these birds are at helping themselves to things. Even if the watch was worn they could have easily taken it. My watch fell off my arm the other day and I discovered that the ends that hold the watch were only glued on, and had become unstuck. Any gull grabbing it would have had no problem snatching it.

    When I put in a claim after a freak thunderstorm knocked out my washing machine, I was stunned as to how agressive the person at the other end of the phone was. The first thing you hear is a pre-recorded message threatening you if you lie, and then they wanted to know the EXACT time and day of the storm so they could check the weather patterns! As the storm was very localised I was worried that it would not have shown up. Fortunately it did. However I think that innocent people should not have to suffer (yet again) for those who make false claims - if you phone the insurance company in a distressed state after a fire for example (as I also have had to do), the last thing you want to hear is threats before you have even asked them for help!

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • amwell44
    Love rating 77
    amwell44 said

    Aitken B, Yes to your first and second points, but you must recognise how difficult it is to eliminate fraudulent insurance claims, just from reading the complaints about insurers on Lovemoney.

    As for your scenario, please allow me to attempt to explain what you clearly do not understand. If you have an accident or your car is damaged, you MUST lodge a claim under YOUR insurance policy, no matter who you believe was responsible, or who admits liability. This is because you have a legal contract with your insurance company and the Third Party (you will hope) has a contract with his Motor Insurer. Under the terms of the policy, your insurer must pay for your damage and then attempt to recover the cost from the TP insurer, if they can. It sounds as if they didn't succeed. This could have been because the TP was not liable in law, for some reason, or you were both to blame, in fact, or he vitiated his insurance cover, for example by admitting liability, which he should not have done. Whatever the reason, if your insurer was unable to recover the cost of repairs to your vehicle, because the other insurer refused to pay and it was not feasible to sue them, then of course you would lose your No Claim Bonus, because there has been a claim. It is not a no blame bonus.

    Surely you can understand that if a Statutory body, such as the Financial Ombudsman, staffed with experts and lawyers and charged with scrupulous fairness, especially to consumers, I might add, then decides the insurer was right, that's the end of it. Your argument did not hold up.

    By the way, it is defamatory and totally wrong to accuse any UK insurer of "fraud". If an insurer were guilty of fraud, or making a false statement, as you allege, in a regulated industry, they would be out of business in a very short time.

    I hope this will help you to get over your disappointment. Naturally, I do know about the subject, after a lifetime in the industry and that is why I am commenting.

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • time2go
    Love rating 68
    time2go said


    From your post alone, I would have guessed you worked in the Insurance industry. Although, I would say, in my opinion, your view is incredibly blinkered.

    Insurers often refer to fraud, yet when THEY are wrong it is always just an error/mistake etc.

    In my opinion it would be naive to say that Statutory bodies/independent experts are always fair. It has long been held that medico-legal experts giving evidence in court were unbiased, yet relatively recent evidence showed that innocent people have been convicted and spent time in jail based on ill-conceived 'expert' evidence.

    I am not a fan of insurers (as you may have guessed from this and previous posts of mine).

    Insurance is a business, not a service. Insurers are armed to the hilt with lawyers and when complaints are upheld against them it is never because of fraud but a 'procedural' or 'training' issue.

    I accept that you say that the insured is contractually obliged to make a claim (as I do not know the specifics of insurance law). However, from a lay point of view this has to be ethically wrong.

    If the insured has suffered minor damage, why is the insurer insisting on them making a claim, unless it is for their financial gain (i.e. increasing premiums).

    I can understand that Insurers want to know of any incidents but this is not the same as having to make a mandatory claim. Surely, this is then the major cause of increasing claims and premiums?

    Yet insurance 'experts' inevitably lay the cause of the increased premiums on 'Fraudulent' claims.

    Insurers thought personal injury would be a 'profitable' market because they provided the insurance against legal costs. The premiums for these policies were often paid for by the insurer to encourage people to make claims. When the actual numbers did not add up, they then spent their time blaming fraudulent claims.

    I realise fraudulent claims are an issue, but this is not a reason to treat all customers with the same attitude.

    I would also not provide a definitive view about 'defamatory comments', I thought Aitken B gave his 'opinion' and was not publishing a statement of fact.

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • leah AKA global leah
    Love rating 17
    leah AKA global leah said

    Even though my story isn't really relevant to the fraudulent claim, I do have to say that seagulls pinching watches aren't that far fetch. (true story) I was on holiday at St. Ives in 2012 and I was minding my own business and having a sandwich by the sand, just as I was about to take another bite, my friend screamed the same time as my sandwich got snatched out of my hand, never felt a flutter of wings near my face at all, I was upset but impressed with the skillfulness of the seagull at the same time.

    So the watch incident just does't seem that far fetched. (I am still looking for that bird to get my sandwich back!)

    Report on 23 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • Ginnymay
    Love rating 39
    Ginnymay said

    I'm afraid I am very cynical about insurance companies. My late brother paid payment protection insurance premiums on his credit card for 7 years. It was only when he died the company decided they did not want to insure him. He had had to stop work with ill health 2 years before and hadn't told them. They didn't pay off the £8K on the card, nor did they refund the 7 years worth of premiums. They really had their cake and ate it. If he hadn't dropped dead, they would still be taking his premiums.

    Report on 24 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • amwell44
    Love rating 77
    amwell44 said

    time2go, I'm not "blinkered", but qualified in insurance (1971) with a Legal education (part time, self-paid), experienced and still working in the industry. Aitken B expressed more than an opinion. He alleged "fraud" and a "false statement" and said the insurer should be prosecuted. That is defamatory language, because it is clearly untrue.

    Another false assumption creeping in to this string is that insurers automatically increase premiums after a claim. They may do, but often don't and can't, because of competition. If your insurer quotes an increased premium at renewal, it is probably because of external, i.e. market factors and you can always shop around, as this site would advise. The sheer volume of claims paid by the UK and Worldwide insurance industry is astronomical - think every natural disaster, plane crash, ship sinking, catastrophic explosion, etc, etc. UK Motor never makes money from premiums, by the way, but is subsidised by investment income on the premium cash flow, though even that is often not enough to cover the enormous liabilities. Remember, it is not just the damaged vehicle, but the injured people as well and some personal injury claims cost millions of Pounds to settle - do you remember the man who fell asleep at the wheel and caused a train crash, with fatalities? His Motor insurer had to pay for all of it, even though he went to prison.

    Fraudulent claims are a big issue. You must know there is a cottage industry in faked car crashes and as for alleged Whiplash claims ... I could go on.

    Ginnymay, your story is something else and looks like an injustice. I advise you to take professional advice from a good insurance broker, a solicitor specialising in insurance law, or the Citizens Advice Bureau. Please don't accept the situation.

    Finally, as a Claims man, with a lifelong interest in ornithology, I would be prepared to credit the seagull story, provided the insurance was valid and I was otherwise satisfied with the bona fides of the claim statement.

    Report on 24 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • hopefultom
    Love rating 50
    hopefultom said


    You make some good points, but I must agree with time2go when he says Aitken B is just expressing an opinion.

    If he had been foolish enough to name the company, then you would have been correct in saying he was using " defamatory language "

    Report on 24 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • amwell44
    Love rating 77
    amwell44 said

    hopefultom - Quite right. It is defamatory language, but not actually defamation, as no person or organisation is named. That's the beauty of these sites - you can say anything if you are reasonably careful and bloggers certainly do. My point, though, was that Aitken B's criticism was unfair.

    Actually, I am more anxious about Ginnymay, as I am sure she(?) is entitled to redress on behalf of her late brother's estate. She could go Aitken B's route and complain directly to the insurance company, in writing. They must respond and if the complainant is not satisfied (and who would be?) there is an automatic reference to the Financial Ombudsman Service. I can't see them turning that one down, but behind it was bad handling, not fraud.

    Report on 25 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • CuNNaXXa
    Love rating 410
    CuNNaXXa said

    I love the following quote.

    The Association of British Insurers (ABI) conducted some research of its own, which found that two-thirds of people might make a false claim, think it’s acceptable to make a false claim, or would exaggerate the cost of something that has been lost or stolen.

    Two thirds eh? That means that 66% of the UK population might make a false claim. Talk about criminalising a nation. Do they really think it is THAT high?

    Damn. Just think. Of the nine previous comments, six of you probably have, or will, try to defraud an insurance company.

    Report on 25 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  1 love
  • time2go
    Love rating 68
    time2go said

    Nice research CuNNaXXa!

    I have dealt with mediations before generally:

    - Party 1 puts in a very high figure

    - Party 2 puts in an absurdly low figure

    - End of mediation, meet somewhere in between

    So according to ABI research they would conclude both parties made false claims?????

    I just call this business negotiation, but it could easily categorised as 'fraud.'

    Report on 26 February 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • JohnStanton
    Love rating 0
    JohnStanton said

    What about the other side of this? Insurance companies knock so many things off claims, it makes people add stuff on.

    Report on 08 April 2013  |  Love thisLove  0 loves
  • deanrobinson78
    Love rating 20
    deanrobinson78 said

    @leah AKA global leah Did you put in an insurance claim? With accidental cover surely you had bought the sandwich and it was stolen from you....

    I don't work in the industry, would never make a fraudulent claim and in fact would think twice about making a real claim for fear of what it would do to my premiums. I do know of someone who had a flood and claimed for a £2500 Plasma TV which didn't exist. He even got a receipt from the electronics shop to say he bought it (in exchange for £50 under the counter).


    Report on 23 January 2014  |  Love thisLove  0 loves

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