Insurers unite to combat holiday fraud

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Holiday insurance companies have set up a computer detection system to attempt to combat fraudulent claims by tourists that are costing the travel business pounds 50m a year.

The system, which the companies hope will be in use by spring, will enable insurers to link up via computer, giving them access to daily-updated information on claims, particularly those made more than once by the same applicant.

The lengths to which holidaymakers will go to make bogus claims was highlighted last week when a couple were prosecuted in Cyprus for falsely alleging that the woman had been raped by their hotelier's son. The Cypriot judge who fined Suzanne Warburton and her boyfriend Paul Shearsmith said insurance fraudsters were now so common that police were wasting time on almost 30 fraudulent claims a day in Cyprus.

Insurers estimate that around 10 per cent of the 300,000 to 500,000 holiday insurance claims made in Britain each year are bogus. Fraudulent claims tend to fall into two categories: over-inflation of a genuine claim, and fictitious claims.

Jacqueline Pearson, a Home and Overseas Insurance claims manager, and part of a working group developing the new computer system, said: "The system will throw up people who are claiming year in, year out and who go on holiday, then make claims to pay for their holiday."

One case involved a man who, while holidaying in Spain, claimed for the cost of an appendectomy. Investigations showed this was the seventeenth time that he had made such a claim.

Another case involved a claim for medical treatment and convalescence costing pounds 14,000 after a bout of malaria in West Africa. The "hospital" concerned was, in fact, a local brothel.

The insurance industry has praised the Cypriot authorities for their stand. Suzanne Moore, of the Association of British Insurers, said: "The police in Cyprus are cracking down, and I'm sure that's discouraging it. But it goes on everywhere."

Trevor Lee, deputy general manager at H&O Insurance, also applauded the Cypriot authorities but added that this type of fraud had reached epidemic proportions. "I think it's incredible that there are almost as many claims for Gucci watches each year as there are Gucci watches made in Northern Europe each year. And why is it that when people lose their sunglasses on holiday it's always a pair of Ray-Bans?"

As a result of the high level of fraud, insurers scrutinise all claims more closely, but often it is the unusual ones which turn out to be genuine. One man jumped from his fourth-floor balcony on finding the hotel was on fire. He landed safely, but a falling suitcase then fractured his skull. Another couple on holiday in Gibraltar were attacked by an ape, which took their camera.