AutoInsurance.com
December 2, 2022

Ghost Brokers: The Latest Car Insurance Scam

How to tell a legitimate car insurance broker from a fraudster

In 2021, scammers made more money through social media than any other method. They cost over 95,000 people a collective $770 million, accounting for 25 percent of all fraud losses reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Social media is a cheap and easy way for scammers to create fake personas or hack into real profiles and scam the user’s friends.1

The latest social media scam, especially as it relates to car insurance, is ghost broking. This is when people pose as insurance brokers to sell fraudulent policies. Find out how exactly ghost broking works, how to spot it, and what to do if you fall victim to a fake insurance scam like this.

What Are Ghost Brokers?

Ghost brokers are scammers who pose as insurance brokers to sell either fraudulent or nonexistent auto insurance policies. Often, these scams take place on social media, although they may also occur through local businesses, word of mouth, student websites, or forums about money-saving.

Ghost brokers target people who may have higher insurance costs, such as college students, teen drivers, or undocumented immigrants. These individuals may be eager to reduce their insurance expenses and unfamiliar with how insurance works — and thus more likely to fall for scams or prices that seem to be good to be true … because they are.

CheckNOTE:

Car insurance for undocumented immigrants is more expensive typically, due to their lack of driving record in the U.S. However, in some states like New York, car insurance companies can’t set rates based on a customer’s citizenship or legal status in the U.S.2

How Ghost Broking Works

Ghost broking works in one of three ways: forgery, falsification, or cancellation.

Forged Documents

Some ghost brokers buy real auto insurance documents and alter the names and dates to those of the person they’re scamming, passing them off as legitimate policies. They sell the policies to multiple people, collecting the premiums without actually providing the insurance service.

Falsified Documents

Other scammers buy real policies for customers but falsify their personal information to lower the cost of auto insurance. For example, because auto insurance costs more for teens, ghost brokers may report the driver as being older than they really are. Or, if someone lives in a neighborhood with a dense population and high rates of auto theft and car vandalism, the ghost broker may change the submitted ZIP code to one with fewer people and lower crime rates.

The issue arises when the insurance company finds out about the falsified information. They’ll cancel the policy, which will leave the victim without insurance and make it harder for them to get insurance in the future. Meanwhile, the scammer will collect the prorated refund, leaving the customer high and dry.

Canceled Policies

The last method of ghost broking is when a scammer buys a real policy with real driver information but then, without the knowledge of the customer, cancels the insurance and collects the refund.

CheckFYI:

Every state has different insurance cancellation notification laws. For example, in New Mexico, companies have 15 days to notify their customers of cancellation for misrepresentation or fraud, during which a ghost broker can pocket the prorated refund without the customer knowing the policy was canceled in the first place.3

How Common Is Ghost Broking?

Because ghost broking is such a recent phenomenon, there’s no good national data on how common it is in the U.S. However, we know that from 2019 to 2021, digital fraud in the insurance industry in general increased by 54 percent. In the same period, scammer and solicitation fraud around the world increased by 57 percent, according to a report from TransUnion.4

The Consequences of Ghost Broking

The consequences of falling prey to ghost broking and driving without real insurance, even unknowingly, can include fines, points on your record, and more expensive policies in the future. In the worst-case scenario, you could be convicted of insurance fraud, leading to imprisonment or community service.5

You may face consequences even if you haven’t been personally affected by ghost broking. Generally, insurance fraud, not including health insurance scams, costs consumers more than $40 billion a year, which breaks down to $400-$700 more in auto insurance costs for the average American family. As car insurance companies determine their pricing, they take fraud into account, causing premiums to rise for all — not just direct victims.

Warning Signs of Ghost Broking

So, how can you tell if a broker is legitimate or not? Look out for the following red flags.

  • Cash-only payments: Agents who demand payment in cash only should raise alarm bells, whether they want the funds delivered in person, through social media, or via cash exchange apps.
  • Advertising on social media or messaging apps: Most legitimate brokers don’t advertise on social media or messaging apps in the first place.
  • No phone communication: Another red flag is the purported broker wanting to speak only over social media or email; it’s difficult or even impossible to get them on the phone.
  • No direct communication with the carrier: Unlike an insurance agent, an insurance broker acts as a middleman between an insurance carrier and a customer. As a result, there should be some direct communication or shared documents between you and the  actual insurance provider. If you’ve only communicated with the broker throughout the entire buying process, that’s a sign they might not be legitimate.
  • Rates that are “too good to be true”: We all want lower car insurance rates, but if the premiums seem too low, the policy might not be real.6

How to Avoid Falling Victim to Ghost Broking

Fortunately, there are a few easy ways to lessen the chance of getting scammed.

  • Shop legitimate sources: Avoid getting your car insurance on social media or money-saving websites, which are hotbeds for unregulated and unauthorized businesses.7 Instead, get your car insurance through licensed insurance agents, brokers, or providers. You can check to see if a company is legitimate by using the Better Business Bureau.8
  • Check if the broker is licensed: Make sure the broker is licensed to sell insurance in your state. You can contact your state’s insurance department directly or use the database from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners at https://sbs.naic.org/solar-external-lookup/.
  • Avoid premature signatures or payments: Until you’ve verified the broker is licensed, don’t sign anything or send any money. This simple precaution could stop you from losing hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

How to Report Insurance Fraud

Despite our best prevention efforts, we can all fall victim to scams. If you’ve been impacted by ghost broking, here’s what to do.

  1. Contact the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB): Report the incident by calling 800-835-6422 Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. CT, or using the online form at https://www.nicb.org/how-we-help/report-fraud.
  2. Report the fraud to your state’s insurance fraud bureau: The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud lists the contact information for each state’s insurance fraud bureau at https://insurancefraud.org/state-insurance-fraud-bureaus/.
  3. Contact the insurance company: It’s important to let the insurance company know about the situation, both for your own protection and because the provider is being defrauded as well. Find the number for the insurer’s fraud hotline on their website.
  4. Report the fraud to your local FBI office: For further investigation, you can also report the scam to your local FBI office, which you can find at https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices.9

Citations

  1. Social media a gold mine for scammers in 2021. Federal Trade Commission. (2022, Jan 25).
    https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/data-visualizations/data-spotlight/2022/01/social-media-gold-mine-scammers-2021

  2. NY DEPARTMENT OF FINANCIAL SERVICES AND DIVISION OF HUMAN RIGHTS TAKE ACTION TO PROTECT NEW YORK DRIVERS FROM DISCRIMINATION IN AUTO INSURANCE BASED ON IMMIGRATION STATUS. New York State Department of Financial Services. (2020, Jan 16).
    https://www.dfs.ny.gov/reports_and_publications/press_releases/pr202001161

  3. New Mexico Statutes Section 59A-18-29 – Cancellation of certain policies. Justia US Law. (2018).
    https://law.justia.com/codes/new-mexico/2018/chapter-59a/article-18/section-59a-18-29/

  4. 2022 Global Digital Fraud Trends Report. TransUnion. (2022).
    https://content.transunion.com/v/2022-global-digital-fraud-trends-report?_ga=2.2890994.377989223.1666275515-840479693.1666275515

  5. Ghost Brokers. Insurance Fraud Bureau.
    https://insurancefraudbureau.org/insurance-fraud/ghost-brokers/

  6. Insurance Scam: Beware Of False Agents & Fraudulent Policies. Allstate. (2022, Jan)
    https://www.allstate.com/resources/beware-of-insurance-scams

  7. Everything you need to know about ghost broking. InsurTech. (2021, Jul 12).
    https://insurtechdigital.com/life-and-pensions/everything-you-need-know-about-ghost-broking

  8. Search Businesses and Charities. Better Business Bureau. (2022).
    https://www.bbb.org/search

  9. Insurance Fraud. Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022).
    https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/insurance-fraud