Portsmouth trainee chef Terry Wareing thought he had the strength of comprehensive motor insurance behind him after he was involved in a modest rear end shunt.
But his claim turned into a nightmare after he discovered he’d been duped into buying a fake policy, and had been unwittingly driving around without valid insurance cover.
The fraud only came to light when another motorist ran into the back of the 22-year-old’s Vauxhall 1.4 Corsa while he was waiting at some traffic lights.
The shunt damaged the car’s rear fender and left a nasty crease in the boot – as well as an estimated £1,600 hit in the wallet to cover the cost of repairs.
Terry is one of an increasing number of young drivers desperate to slash their spiralling insurance premiums who have been scammed by ‘ghost broking’ fraudsters.
Last November his insurer Aviva quoted almost £1,400 for fully comprehensive cover.
Scouring the internet for competitively-priced quotes resulted in an advert popping up on Facebook, which appeared to be from a legit insurance broker.
He said: ‘I called the broker with my details and was surprised when they offered me a mind-blowing cheap no-quibble deal from Churchill which, looking back I should have realised was far too good to be true.
‘At £530 it was a cool deal, so I didn’t give it a second thought when I was told I could pay by debit card.
‘A week or so later, when the policy came through, it looked completely genuine, so I just put it away as usual and didn’t give it a second thought.
‘It wasn’t until I was shunted on the way back from visiting my girlfriend in Petersfield and exchanged details with the other driver that I realised something was wrong.
‘I tried ringing the broker the following day but the lines just kept ringing out and I couldn’t get an answer.
‘When I rang Churchill’s claims department and gave them the policy details I was completely blown away. I lost my cool when they told me I wasn’t insured and my ‘policy’ wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.
‘I was furious when they just kept insisting I wasn’t covered. As far as I was concerned, there was no question I had a valid policy.’
Streetwise can reveal that ‘ghost broking’ is a serious business, and is part of a complex car insurance fraud that is now sweeping the country.
Ghost brokers are dangerous criminals who target young, mainly male drivers, offering bargain basement insurance deals. Typically they advertise on social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
The Association of British Insurers (ABI) says the scam usually works in one of two ways: Policies are either bought from legitimate insurance companies using false information, then doctored before being sold to drivers.
Alternatively, copied fake policy documents that appear to be issued by legitimate insurance companies are created and sold on to unsuspecting customers.
Their initial estimates suggest that thousands of motorists may have been duped into buying fake insurance, although the true scale of the problem is unknown as most drivers will assume their cover is legitimate.
The consequences of buying a bogus policy can be extremely serious.
Drivers are exposed to the risk of driving without valid car insurance, which in turn can lead to their cars being seized and impounded by police, handed down hefty fines and other penalties, plus winding up with a criminal record.
A City of London police unit, dedicated to tackling fraud insurance nationwide, has teamed up with the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) and Crimestoppers.
They advise motorists to use common sense when buying insurance and to be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.
RAC Insurance managing director Mark Godfrey commented that it was particularly disturbing that young male drivers were being targeted by ‘ghost broking’ scams.
After all, they can least afford the devastating personal and financial consequences of being involved in an accident without valid insurance.
He said: ‘Unfortunately social media makes it far easier for scammers to identify and target young male drivers.
“We urge every young driver to be extremely wary of approaches from so-called insurers via social media.
“Whenever considering insurance cover, drivers are best advised to choose a reputable motor insurer and to ensure they check all of their paperwork.
‘If a deal sounds too good to be true then it probably is.’
Streetwise advises motorists to be cautious and on their guard when buying car insurance from unknown or unusual sources, especially online.
Legitimate brokers can be checked out on the British Insurance Brokers Association (BIBA) website at https://www.biba.org.uk/ or by calling 0370 950 1790.
The validity of car insurers can also be obtained from the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) list of members.
Go online to https://www.mib.org.uk/ navigate to ‘about MIB’ then to the membership list, or phone the bureau on 01908 830 001.
A chastened Terry said he had no choice but to be philosophical.
He’d reported the scam to Crimestoppers, and was resigned to the fact that he’d been taken in.
He rued: ‘I’m gutted and my girlfriend thinks I’ve been a right muppet.
‘We’ve been saving hard to put a deposit on a flat.
‘What with being scammed out of £530, and having to find another one and a half grand for the car repairs plus genuine insurance cover, it’s been an expensive mistake.
‘I just hope that by alerting other people to what happened to me, they’ll be far more wary of cheapjack car insurance offers.’