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Picture this: you’re driving home after a long day at work, minding your own business, when all of a sudden the car in front of you brakes hard. You swerve to avoid a collision, but it’s too late — you rear-end the other car.

Everyone’s okay but now you have to go through insurance to sort it. And let’s face it, you could have just lost your No Claim Discount.

You’re probably thinking to yourself: “Oh great, this is exactly what I needed! I just want to get home and order Dominos and veg out on the sofa for a few hours.”

No such luck though.

As you exchange insurance information, the other driver seems eerily calm, almost as if they were expecting this to happen. It might shock you to find out that you might be on to something here.

There are scammers out there who are ready to exploit stressed-out drivers to make a quick buck at their expense.

They run a scam called “crash for cash” where they stage car accidents and extort you for cash. It’s a lucrative gig for criminals. In fact, estimates suggest that the annual cost of the cash for crash fraud amounts to £392 million.

Here’s what you need to know about the crash for cash scams, and how to avoid becoming a victim yourself.

What is crash for cash?

Crash for cash is a type of insurance scam where people stage accidents and intimidate the victim by demanding cash for ‘damages’. Yup, they purposefully drive dangerously or walk out in front of you to cause an accident. And that’s how they make their money.

This type of scam happens in a few different ways. Here are some common examples.

The “rear-end” accident

Rear-ending another car is every driver’s nightmare. That’s because if you rear-end someone, you’re often viewed as being at fault. Basically, unless you’ve got NCD protection, you may say sayonara to your No Claim Discount, and say hello to higher premiums.

That’s why careful drivers maintain enough braking distance to make sure they can stop if the car in front of them brakes suddenly. But if the driver in front of you is a scammer, you might find that your ninja-level driving skills are just no match for their erratic driving.

The scammer will drive dangerously by braking for no good reason, or pretending to move away from a junction and then stopping at the last minute when you’ve set off. Sometimes, they’ll even disconnect their brake lights to throw you off. You’ll likely end up rear-ending them as a result.

In the ensuing confusion, the scammer’s next step is to tell you they won’t call their insurer if you hand over some cash for ‘minor repairs’. People can fall for it because they don’t want to lose their No Claim Discount.

But handing over cash in this scenario is doing exactly what the scammer wants. It’s best to go through the proper channels and save yourself the hassle instead.

Sometimes, they don’t ask you for cash outright. Instead, they might go to their insurer and claim money for whiplash injuries.

The “pedestrian” accident

It’s every driver’s worst nightmare – hitting a pedestrian while driving. And yet, scammers bank on your emotional response to extort cash from you.

In this scenario, the scammer walks out in front of your moving car and pretends to be knocked over or injured by you.

At this point, you’ll probably feel shocked and confused by what just happened. Your first thought might be to find out if the person you’ve hit is okay.

The scammer uses this opportunity to tell you they’ll call the police unless you offer them compensation. While still in a state of shock, you might agree to pay them off to make the problem go away.

But if anyone who’s just been hit by a car is asking for cash to keep quiet about the incident, alarm bells should start ringing. This is easier said than done when you think you’ve just hit someone though.

The “ghost” accident

This is a type of cash for crash accident that only happens on paper. The scammer will submit a claim to an insurance company, hoping they won’t be asked to provide any evidence. Sometimes, the cars involved don’t exist.

These types of crash-for-cash scams are least likely to affect you directly but can affect insurers and their overall costs – which means we all end up paying more for our insurance.

Is it a crash for cash scam or a genuine accident?

If you’ve just rear-ended a car or hit a pedestrian, your first thought probably won’t be “I’ve been scammed.” But if something feels off about the situation, you might start to suspect fraud.

Here are some signs you’ve been involved in a crash for cash scam rather than a genuine accident:

  • The car in front of you was driving erratically and slowing down for no reason.
  • The car in front of you overtook you dangerously and then the driver slammed the brakes for no reason.
  • The driver and his passengers seem completely unfazed by the whole situation.
  • The driver demands cash in exchange for not reporting the accident to their insurance provider.
  • The driver has pre-written insurance information ready to hand over.
  • The pedestrian you’ve hit seems to be exaggerating their injuries.
  • The pedestrian asks for cash and threatens to call the police if you don’t pay up.
  • The pedestrian’s “injury” seems to come and go, and they make a miraculous recovery when you pay them off.

Of course, some of these can be easy to miss in the heat of the moment. Also, even if you suspect a scam, you probably don’t want to confront a criminal by yourself. If someone’s willing to extort you for money, they might get violent if you try to expose them.

So what can you do if you think someone’s trying to scam you?

How to handle a crash for cash scam

Even if you’re convinced you’re dealing with a scammer, don’t call them out. Instead, take the same steps you would if you were involved in a road accident.

  • Make sure that everyone is safe, and if anyone is injured, call the emergency services.
  • If you feel threatened or unsafe, call the police.
  • Whatever the circumstances, you should not admit liability, or say “Sorry”.
  • If you have a dash-cam fitted in your car, make sure that the footage is saved.
  • Make a note of the details of the other car, especially the number plate, make, model, and colour.
  • If there are any witnesses, get their names and contact details.
  • If it’s safe to do so, take photos of the scene of the accident, including the cars involved, and any road markings.
  • Make a note of the weather, including where the sun was relative to the accident.
  • Swap details with the other driver, including their name, vehicle reg, contact details, and insurance company.
  • Don’t hand over any cash!
  • Report the incident to your insurance company as soon as you can.

If you think you’ve been involved in a crash for cash scam, report it to the Insurance Fraud Bureau.

Where are crash for cash scams more likely to happen?

Nobody’s immune to crash for cash scams. They can happen anywhere on the road, but tend to be more common in urban areas.

Data from the Insurance Fraud Bureau shows that certain areas in the country are worse affected than others. The top 10 crash for cash postcodes are in Birmingham, Bradford, Walsall, Blackburn, and Romford.

But just because you’re not in a hotspot doesn’t mean you’re safe.  Anyone can fall victim to this scam, so it’s best to be prepared.

How can you avoid a crash for cash scam?

So what do you do to avoid a crash for cash scam? You can’t just ditch your car at home. You’re pretty sure your parents lied when they said they had to walk five miles to school every day, uphill, both ways, in a blizzard. Anyway, you’re not about to test that theory.

But how can you avoid crash for cash scams?

This might sound cliche, but being aware of your surroundings and adjusting your driving are probably your safest bets.

You should always maintain a safe braking distance, obviously. But if you notice the car in front of you is driving erratically, you might want to put even more distance between the two of you. They might not be a scammer, but it’s best to stay on the safe side anyway.

Sadly, it’s unlikely someone who’s planning on jumping out in front of your car for cash will have “scammer” written on their forehead, so they won’t always be easy to spot. Still, it’s always a good idea to be extra vigilant when you see a pedestrian.

Some pedestrians are scammers, others are not paying attention to traffic – regardless, give them a wide berth if it’s safe to do so.

Of course, even if you’re the most careful driver in the world, you might still be involved in a crash for cash scam. That’s why you should definitely get your hands on a dashcam! That way, you’ll have video evidence of what actually went down.


Crash for cash: staying safe on the road

Most people just want to get from point A to point B as safely as possible. Especially when point “B” is your house and you’re pretty sure you have a chilled bottle of wine that needs drinking before it goes bad. Even though it’s still sealed.

But there are steps you can take if you are worried. And remember; even if you’re involved in a potential scam, the best thing you can do is go through the proper channels.

The less people that hand over their cash to these scammers, the less likely they are to find it appealing to keep going. And the more likely you’re to get home in time to order pizza.