January 6, 2004 – Honest Manitobans would shake their heads in bewilderment upon learning of some of the bizarre criminal antics committed by fraudsters in this province.
In its ongoing efforts to battle auto insurance fraud and enhance awareness of this crime, Manitoba Public Insurance has released its Top Five Frauds for 2003. (Names of the guilty parties have been omitted to save possible embarrassment to family members.)
�Caught Red Handed�
Rather than spend a few dollars and fix his mother�s clunker of a car, a 28-year-old Winnipeg man foolishly decided to dump the wreck and open a bogus theft claim with Manitoba Public Insurance.
It proved a costly decision. The fraudster was fined $2,500 and ordered to pay restitution of $537 to the public insurer after pleading guilty to fraud-over $5,000.
The foiled fraud began in the spring of �03 when the man and a friend–both driving separate vehicles–were spot-checked by RCMP in the RM of Springfield. After producing proper identification the pair was subsequently allowed to proceed. Minutes later the same RCMP officers found one of the vehicles on fire in a ditch.
Three days after the fire, the fraudster reported to both police and Manitoba Public Insurance that his mother�s car had been stolen from the parking lot of a Winnipeg bar.
The subsequent investigation by the Special Investigation Unit of Manitoba Public Insurance confirmed the man had in fact been driving the vehicle only minutes before it was burned and abandoned. Case closed.
�An appetite for money�
A former fast food manager with an appetite for easy money saw his career go up in smoke after being convicted of theft-over $5,000 and arson. The 25-year-old claimed the company vehicle inexplicably burst into flames, toasting the night deposit of $5,000.
But thanks to the expert testimony of an arson investigator with Manitoba Public Insurance, it was conclusively proven that the cash-hungry manager had used an accelerant to torch the car.
The Winnipeg man, who later admitted in court he stole �some of the deposit�, was slapped with an 18-month conditional sentence, ordered to pay restitution of $8,000 to his former employer, and $11,000 to Manitoba Public Insurance.
The insured adamantly claimed his vehicle had been damaged by a hit-and-run driver while parked at a Steinbach mall. Evidence said otherwise.
The damaged vehicle was closely inspected by an accident reconstructionist, who conclusively ruled that the damage was the direct result of the vehicle coming into collision with a concrete surface–similar to the concrete base of a large, light standard.
The 19-year-old Steinbach man subsequently pleaded guilty to making a false statement and was fined $400 plus $200 in costs. Case closed.
A Winnipeg man reported to the public insurer that his �mint� 1978 Camaro had been stolen from an abandoned garage where he had been storing it without permission. The man claimed he had placed numerous locks and security devices to both the garage and the vehicle.
Due to several suspicious factors, Manitoba Public Insurance�s SIU soon opened an investigation. It was discovered that the garage had in fact been vacant for several years and the �mint� Camaro was observed being stripped for parts weeks before it was reported stolen.
The man was convicted of fraud-under $5,000 and received a one-year conditional jail sentence.
�Read All About It�
After his vehicle was rear-ended, the man claimed he was too injured to work. He then began receiving income replacement payments from Manitoba Public Insurance.
Several months later an article about the man�s business was published in a Winnipeg daily newspaper. The man was quoted to say �his one-man operation was ready to move to the next level by hiring additional staff�.
A subsequent investigation discovered the so-called injured man was in fact loading trucks, building pallets and working long hours.
The man later pleaded guilty to fraud-under $5,000 and was ordered to pay restitution of $2,996 to the public insurer.
In total, Manitoba motorists saved about $5 million in 2002/03 thanks to the Special Investigation Unit of Manitoba Public Insurance. The figure is based on an estimate of money recovered and fraudulent claims denied.
�The Top Five frauds show the great lengths that some criminals will go to beat the system,� said Randy Bell, Manager of the SIU.
�Fraud can be reduced through public awareness and education about this crime. Honest Manitobans shouldn�t have to pay for the dishonest actions of a few.�
Last year, SIU�s 19 specially trained investigators opened 3,500 files, resulting in 93 charges laid against 61 people. Manitoba�s justice system continues to take a tough stand against fraud, evidenced in $46,000 in fines ordered by the courts between March 1, 2002 and February 28, 2003. Manitoba Public Insurance�s seconded Crown Attorney also secured $127,416 in restitution orders from Manitoba courts.
Manitoba Public Insurance�s TIPS Line (985-8477) receives about 60 tips a month. These calls resulted in 196 investigations last year, saving premium payers about $364,631.