March 30, 2023

Fighting Insurance Crime: It’s a Team Effort

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Fraud Prevention Month is an opportunity for Canadians to learn more about the alarming rise in insurance crime in Canada, particularly auto theft. Équité Association works with our members to protect Canadians from insurance crime. Whether stolen vehicles or staged accidents, there is always a victim, and this type of crime can have devastating financial, physical, and emotional consequences.

This month, as part of Fraud Prevention Month, we are highlighting the important work by Garry Robertson and his team at Northbridge Financial Corporation.

Formerly a law enforcement officer with the Peel Regional Police, Robertson is now the Director of the Claims Special Investigations Unit (SIU) at Northbridge and is solely focused on detecting and preventing insurance crime. Through his work with the Special Investigation Unit, he has seen the impact that crime has on their customers, their businesses, and Canadian society in general.

“When people first think of insurance fraud, they usually picture the opportunistic style, which is [when] someone has a claim – say a break and enter – and they add extra items to it,” said Robertson. “Or they have water damage and exaggerate the losses. What's often overlooked is the most serious of all the insurance crimes (i.e. auto theft) that is connected to organized crime.”

Putting a dent in insurance crime means stopping the flow of cash to bad actors. It takes a team effort at Northbridge to investigate crimes which may include the SIU team, insurance adjusters, managers, underwriters, risk services experts or any other staff member who can help build a case for the investigation. Adjusters also run new claims through a “fraud prevention checklist” to detect any irregularities.

Northbridge’s fraud prevention efforts also pick up “red flag” indicators, at which point the team will start looking for more information. “We want to be able to move that pendulum from reacting to fraudulent claims that are in the system to try and prevent them entirely, or at least be able to identify them earlier.” In cases where the red flags turn out to be valid, a timely investigation can also help customers get their claims settled faster.

According to Robertson, identifying fraud is relatively simple. The hard part comes inputting together sufficient proof. “If we do find fraud, and we have the proof, we will do something about it.” This may include taking the case to law enforcement, and also Équité, if it involves multiple insurers.  

The team also predicted that they would see certain patterns occurring as a result of the pandemic, and that turned out to be the case. Higher interest rates, inflation, and the overall increase in the cost of living started to coincide with higher rates of auto theft, for example.

While each insurer continues to combat insurance crime within their own organization, Équité Association is bringing together a consortium made up of Canadian property and casualty (P&C) insurers, manufacturers, and law enforcement agencies to collaborate on ways to disrupt and ultimately prevent insurance crime.

At the request of our member companies, Équité investigators will examine suspected stolen vehicles to determine their true identity, assist law enforcement to identify vehicles as part of active investigations, and create analytical reports to provide more insight to our members and partners.

Robertson says that he is pleased to see that these groups are coming together to work on solutions.

“That's something that we have not seen before to this degree. When you start investigating fraud, it doesn't matter what company you’re from, there is a passion and a dedication needed to get to the end result,” said Robertson. He also pointed out that beyond uncovering crime, his team can help their adjusters settle claims faster, by getting answers to questions which benefits both the company and the customer.  

Outside of Northbridge’s own expertise, technology, and processes, the company relies on external partners, such as Équité to fight crime.

“Sharing information and working together will always have an impact on fraudulent claims, so having Équité in the position to be that common point of contact for insurers and their SIU team is critical when you are investigating complex organized insurance rings,” said Robertson.

Public awareness is also critical to help reduce the amount of fraud in general. Educating the public to recognize fraud and where to report it, is one of the most important factors of fraud prevention. “When you see something happening, let us know, whether it is through Crime Stoppers directly or through your individual insurance companies, do something, say something,” said Robertson.