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'Implausible': phone records discredit car theft claim

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A driver claiming her burnt out car was stolen and dumped 20km away while she was having a drink and playing the pokies at a hotel with a friend has lost a dispute with her insurer on the basis of fraud.

The Suncorp policyholder was unable to explain why records showed she telephoned the police using a phone she had reported as also stolen, and that the call was made while at the car’s recovery location – an area she denied visiting that night.

The Australian Financial Complaints Authority (AFCA) said she stood to gain a significant windfall of as much as $14,420, giving a financial motive to make an insurance claim “she was not entitled to make”.

It ruled the damage did not occur in the manner stated and she had not provided honest, complete and accurate information.

“I am satisfied that the claim is fraudulent,” AFCA’s ombudsman said. “The complainant clearly had opportunity as she held the only properly coded key. The inconsistencies and inaccuracies in the version of the loss presented by the complainant and her friend significantly challenge the credibility.”

The driver stated she parked the car at the hotel on a Wednesday night in January and left with a friend to visit a park in Camden, NSW for about ten minutes. The pair returned at around 9pm and played the pokies, departing in his car at 9.30pm.

Upon returning again to the hotel, she said her car was missing and she reported its theft – as well as a handbag, sunglasses, mobile phone, watch and laptop - to the police via phone.

Phone records showed she used the same phone reported as stolen, contradicting her versions that she had used the friend’s phone or possibly her daughter’s phone.

The car, insured for $14,820, was purchased for just $400 as a write-off. An invoice – provided by her partner – stated the sump was removed and a bearing replaced, and the engine oil and filter replaced. It gave no costings for the repairs and was dated after the start of the insurance policy.

Suncorp said it was implausible that an opportunistic thief would happen across the vehicle parked outside a hotel and steal it without being noticed only to drive it 20km away and set it alight within a 30-minute window.

The police advised CCTV showed the insured vehicle was not parked in the rear section of the carpark as the policyholder had claimed, and she later changed her version to advise it was parked on a road. The footage also showed her in the hotel gaming room with a mobile phone in her hand, which AFCA said made clear "she did not leave it in her vehicle meaning it could not have been stolen”.

“I am satisfied that the insurer has established that the complainant has not provided information that is honest, complete or accurate,” the ombudsman said.

Establishing a claim is fraudulent can have a major impact on ability to obtain insurance and finance, AFCA said, and insurers need to produce evidence of motive, opportunity, character and credibility, supported by expert evidence.

See the full ruling here