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A look at the shady business of road touting, and the cost to victims

SINGAPORE: When the SG Road Vigilante group uploaded videos of men caught harassing motorists who had just met with an accident, netizens’ comments came fast and furious.

Several said touting has been a long-standing issue; others recounted their own experiences with road touts.

Lawyer Sarjeet Singh, who represents insurers dealing with motor accident claims, says touting is “still prevalent”, a year after those videos were uploaded.

“Thanks to the lifting of (pandemic) restrictions, you can see traffic’s back to normal,” he notes. “Business is back.”

And there is a wider impact, Talking Point hosts Steven Chia and Shrey Bhargava find out as they join forces to investigate how different parties are involved in this shady business.

Related stories:

Men seen in dashcam footage of traffic incidents investigated for touting, dangerous driving

3 men to be charged over fraudulent motor insurance claims involving S$74,000

THE TARGET

One motorist, Lee (not his real name), was in a chain collision four years ago, with his car rear-ending the second car.

He and his wife were unhurt. But as it was his first road accident, he was in a state of shock. “I panicked,” he recalls. “I didn’t realise I needed to call the insurance company.”

A middle-aged man crossed the road to help him in no time.

“(He) gave a name card and said … ‘I can settle all your claims. I can do everything — no headache, nothing. Follow me to the workshop. (We’ll) drive together,’” Lee recounts.

The other two drivers agreed, so Lee followed suit. After reaching the workshop, the so-called good Samaritan asked him if he wanted to claim insurance.

On top of the advice given by Kho, drivers must call their insurer’s hotline and get their car to an approved reporting centre or authorised workshop for repairs in the Motor Claims Framework endorsed by insurance companies.

As Lee had left the tout to settle everything, third-party repairs that might have cost S$1,000 ballooned instead. Medical expenses made up half of the total amount, even though the claimant said earlier that he had no injuries.

DISHONEST WORKSHOPS, ROGUE SURVEYORS

Touts work in cahoots with some workshops trying to beat the competition they face from roughly 2,000 other workshops.

For example, after touts approached former workshop owner Tan (not his real name) to service a few cars, he started dangling referral fees of up to S$3,000 and received at least “one or two” referrals a month.

COMBATTING THE FRAUD

As things stand, if a motorist does not go to an authorised workshop, the insurance claim may be inflated by the time it reaches the insurer.

The question of intent then comes into play, says Thomas Kapeller, the group head of insurance in fintech firm Hyphen Group.

For instance, a car may not look damaged after a “minor bumper accident”, but an inspection reveals structural damage. The repair cost would then be higher, which is a case of “non-intentional inflation”.

Intentional inflation, on the other hand, occurs when “someone says it costs more than it really (does) to make a profit (on) it”, says Kapeller. “If there’s an intentionally inflated claim, that’s called fraud.”

Police recently charged six men with motor insurance fraud in five traffic accidents in 2020 and last year. At least one of them has been jailed already.

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