MIDWEEK MONEY: We were robbed by a gang of baboons

Summer holidays are over: time to make insurance claims.
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"WHILE SWIMMING in the sea I lost my false teeth. This ruined my holiday, as I wouldn't be seen dead without them. So I caught the next flight home."

How was your holiday? For a large minority among the many millions of UK residents who travel abroad each year, not everything goes smoothly, or so it would seem from the above claim, received recently by one insurer.

As the last of the 14 per cent of British travellers who have suffered loss or injury while on their holidays limp home, insurance companies are bracing themselves for a flood of claims. A spokesman for the travel cover department at Boots says: "About 8 per cent of all policies will result in a claim."

According to the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the industry's trade body, pounds 134m was paid out in travel insurance claims in 1996, the vast majority of them from package holiday-makers, of which pounds 63m was for medical expenses, pounds 47m for cancellations, and pounds 14.8m for lost baggage.

Claims are made on one in 18 of all policies sold by Direct Line, the telephone insurer. Although medical claims are made on only one in 17 of all policies sold, medical expenses account for more than a third of the cost of all claims paid. This is because of the high cost of medical treatment abroad.

Where you are ill or injured makes a great difference to the amount insurers will have to pay out. Caring for someone with appendicitis may cost pounds 1,000 in France, whereas in the US the cost could be up to pounds 6,000. Figures from Columbus Direct show that you are more likely to need medical attention in some places than in others: 70 per cent of claims from travellers to New Zealand and 56 per cent to India were for medical reasons.

Losing your baggage is again more likely to happen in some countries than others - 72 per cent of claims made by tourists returning from Mexico were for lost luggage; then came Zimbabwe with 60 per cent.

Not all claims are genuine. The ABI estimates that travel insurance fraud costs the industry pounds 50m a year. A spokesman says: "There are two types of fraud; holiday-makers either have suffered a genuine loss but claim that the lost item was worth more than it really was, or they claim they have lost something which they have not lost, or perhaps never had."

The ABI recommends that to make a successful claim, you should provide either hospital bills, in the case of a medical claim, or, for loss or theft, a report from the police or the tour representative, plus receipts that prove the value of the lost items.

"Insurance companies have to be satisfied about the claim being made. If they aren't, they won't pay," the ABI spokesman adds.

Columbus Direct estimates that about one in 15 people does not follow through with a claim: "This is often because people are put off by having to produce all the necessary documentation needed to support their claim."

While no doubt serious at the time, some of the claims can seem stranger than others:

n One man, travelling to India via Moscow, claimed that he had been assaulted by the KGB, resulting in the need for medical treatment.

n A couple were on holiday in Spain when the hotel where they were staying caught fire. The man jumped 50ft from the balcony on to a patio below. He sustained no injuries from his jump, but on looking up he was hit on the head by a suitcase thrown from the window by his wife. He was taken to hospital with a fractured skull.

n A group on safari in South Africa left their car to take a closer look at a baby baboon. While their backs were turned, their car was invaded by baboons who made off with their camera as well as fruit and sweets.

n A tourist videoing the Puskar camel races in India, twisted his ankle and smashed his camera when he fell over after colliding with a peanut vendor's cart. When making the claim he assured the insurance company: "I have the incident on tape if you require proof."

n One woman, on holiday with her husband, took off her engagement ring to have a bath. As she came out of the bathroom, she saw a magpie fly out of the window. When she came to put her ring back on it had gone, presumably with the magpie.

n A giraffe put its head into the jeep of a family on safari in Kenya and took a handbag. They did retrieve the bag, but the giraffe had chewed it to pieces.

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