Calling your insurer: misleading Google ads means you could be left out of pocket

Looking up your insurer's number on your mobile could be a costly mistake, as premium-rate providers and claims management firms are cashing in.

It can easily happen. You’re out in your car and need to call your insurer, perhaps because your car has broken down or you’ve been caught in an incident.

You don’t have the insurer’s number to hand so you quickly search for it online and click on the first result that comes up.

Sounds simple enough, right? Unfortunately doing this can see you end up spending a fortune on a phone call, or have to hand over a chunk of any insurance payout you receive.

Click to dial

It all comes down to a sneaky tactic being employed by rip-off artists advertising on Google.

A new investigation by the consumer champions at Which? looked into the results for terms that people tend to put in on search engines when looking for their car insurer’s phone number.

And sneakily, for around a fifth of searches, the search engine displays adverts for ‘call connecting’ services at the top of the page, above the actual search results.

If you happen to click on these links, you are taken through a website run by claims management companies or premium-rate call connecting firms. On the site, a large phone number will be displayed, with a button that invites the user to ‘click to call’.

Unfortunately, doing so means you are put through to the insurer but via a premium-rate phone number.

Shelling out for a call

The clue is in the name here ‒ a premium-rate number means premium prices. And these calls are rarely over in just a couple of minutes.

Which? calculated that a 30-minute call on one of these numbers can cost you as much as £127.50 depending on your phone network.

In theory, these ads are a breach of Google’s rules, so shouldn’t be turning up in search results at all.

Google has said that, in 2020, it removed more than 99 million ads to restricted businesses, but these sneaky tricksters are evidently still finding a way through the search engine’s checks.

Going through a claims management firm

Separate to the premium rate number providers are the claims management firms. Which’s investigation found that these businesses are also utilising these ‘click to dial’ ads, with a clickable number appearing in the search itself. 

So while you might think you’re going through to your insurer, you’re actually speaking to a third party to handle your claim, who will then take a cut from any payout you get.

And surprise surprise, those charges are rarely made clear from the outset.

Bending the rules

Insurers have been warning about claims management firms using these ‘click to dial’ ads for years. 

Admiral for example has published a guide on its website warning its customers about the practice and said it has had cases where policyholders have only found out they’d been using a claims management firm when they called Admiral directly for an update on how their case was progressing.

Importantly, insurers can only push for ads to be removed for specific reasons, like if their logo is being used by a claims management firm.

As a result, wily claims firms have found ways to get around these restrictions and continue their practice, raking in the cash from successful policy claims.

Don’t rely on Google

Clearly, premium-rate number providers and claims management firms are going to keep trying it on so long as they can get away with it, as these iffy ads are a great money-spinner.

So what’s the answer?

Google obviously needs to do far to keep the call connecting services at bay, since they specifically breach the search engine’s terms, but honestly it needs to set a much higher bar across the board.

At best, these results are misleading, and at worst they are actively deceiving people and costing them money as a result.

But it’s also up to us to be a little more on the ball when it comes to searching for an insurer’s number.

Saving the direct number in your mobile, or keeping it in your glove compartment in the event that you need to call your insurer while out and about is a good move, but equally taking your time when using search engines rather than simply clicking the first result that comes up is also going to pay dividends.

 

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