Consumers are being tricked into calling premium rate numbers when trying to make an insurance claim, consumer group Which? has warned.
Scam numbers are promoted online through adverts masquerading as insurance companies. Despite promising to put you through to the company you're trying to reach, these numbers in fact route people via a high cost premium line that can cost hundreds of pounds to dial.
Which? found these ads were rife on Google despite the search engine's official ban on these sorts of promotions.
Here's how to spot and avoid 'click to call' scams — and what to do if you become a victim of one.
What is a 'click to dial' scam?
'Click to dial' scams are adverts that appear above a company’s actual phone number when you search online for contact details. When consumers tap on these adverts, they’ll be taken to a website that displays a large phone number and button that says ‘click to call’.
Consumers who click will either be put through to the insurance company, but via a premium-rate phone number, or put through to a claims management company that will take a cut from any insurance payout.
"Misleading ‘click-to-call’ ad results – paid for by dodgy claims management firms - appear to represent the insurer," the Insurance Fraud Bureau (IFB) explained.
The cost of making premium calls can quickly escalate — a 30-minute phone call can cost over £100, according to Which?.
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The consumer group found ‘click to dial’ ads for claims management companies were rife and appeared in two in five searches (43%) for customer service phone numbers. These ads trick customers into believing they’re contacting their insurer, when they’re actually being put through to a third-party to handle their claim.
In the case of car insurance, the representative will ask for the victim’s personal details to help provide them with "support", ranging from collecting, fixing and replacing damaged vehicles to processing a claim against the other driver in the collision. The claims management company then deals directly with the insurer. Many victims never realise they are being conned,
"This information is passed onto a claims management firm that works in tandem with a network of unscrupulous companies to provide costly support services," the IFB said.
How can you avoid 'click to dial' scams?
Which? said consumers should avoid dialling any customer service numbers they find after following links with 'Ad’ in the top corner of search results. They should also be wary of any search results that don’t match the term they typed and any which don’t state the name of the company they’re trying to reach.
Premium-rate phone numbers usually start with 09, 118 and 087, so it is worth checking if the number listed on the site starts with these digits.
Avoid looking up a number on your mobile phone and always physically dial numbers rather than auto-dialling by clicking on links.
The IFB recommends consumers check website addresses to check they are legitimate. If unsure, paste the link into a link checker. These are free online tools that analyse a link's security and scan for malware, ransomware, or other safety risks.
Another way to stay safe is to make sure the number you find is on your insurer's actual website, which should start with the name of the company. Try typing the number into a search engine and see if it comes up on your insurer's website.
It is also advisable to look for claims contact numbers on policy documentation, rather than online.
"Keeping a copy of the policy book from your car insurer in the glove compartment – or at least writing down their details – can help ensure you don’t make a costly mistake if your car breaks down," said Adam French, a Which? consumer rights expert.
What can you do if you have been a victim?
If a member of the public thinks they have seen or experienced a claims management company wrongly representing an insurer, it’s important to make notify the insurer so they can take steps to address the issue, the IFB said.
Suspicions of insurance fraud should also be reported to the IFB via its confidential Cheatline service on 0800 422 0421 or at www.insurancefraudbureau.org.
Action Fraud can also provide assistance and advice.
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