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Manitoba Public Insurance says fraud investigations saved $13M this year

Manitoba Public Insurance says fraud investigations saved nearly $13 million in 2020. Shane Gibson/Global News

A deadly pandemic doesn’t appear to have slowed down those hoping to defraud Manitoba Public Insurance.

The public insurer says investigations into nearly 1,000 suspicious claims resulted in more than $13 million in savings as of the end of November, up nearly $3 million from what investigators were able to save by the same time last year.

Read more: Manitobans set to get another round of MPI rebate cheques

The numbers come Tuesday as MPI released a list of the top five list of alleged frauds they’ve seen over the year.

“MPI releases its annual top five fraud list to raise awareness about the costs related to auto insurance fraud ─ about $50 per customer yearly,” said MPI’s Chief Operating Officer, Curtis Wennberg, in a release.

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“The list is compiled based on the unique circumstances of each fraud, financial savings to MPI ratepayer, and investigative excellence in unearthing the fraudsters.”

At the top of MPI’s naughty list this year is a rural Manitoba man the Crown corporation says decided to back away from a claim he’d made after investigators determined he’d torched his own travel trailer in the hopes of cashing in on the insurance money.

Read more: Manitoba Public Insurance sees strong first fiscal quarter in 2020

According to MPI, the man reported his trailer had been stolen out of a storage yard in a rural community. The trailer was found the same morning burned to the ground and still smoldering on a gravel round about 10 km out of town.

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But an MPI investigator who rushed to the scene checked footage from a nearby surveillance camera and noticed the trailer being driven to the spot it was burned by a truck that looked suspiciously like the one owned by the man making the claim.

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The investigation also found the man was going through some financial issues, MPI says.

While MPI says the man denied having anything to do with the theft and subsequent fire, investigators say he declined to let them check his truck and withdrew his insurance claim a few days later.

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The investigation resulted in an estimated $37,000 in savings, MPI says.

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This year’s list also includes a man who claimed to have driven into into a pole while swerving to miss a rabbit, a woman who had been collecting income replacement benefits based on fraudulent documents, and two men who claimed they couldn’t work — but kept working — after being involved in crashes.

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In all, MPI says the investigations listed in this year’s top five list resulted in just over $1.27 million in claims savings.

Earlier this year MPI said the number of Manitobans charged with auto insurance fraud was on the rise.

Read more: Auto insurance fraud increases threefold in 2020: Manitoba Public Insurance

The insurer said in September that by the end of July 2020, there had been 88 fraud charges laid against 33 people — a sharp rise from 30 charges against 10 people over the same period in 2019.

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At the time Wennberg said part of the uptick is due to MPI’s increased efforts in investigating suspicious claims.

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Wennberg said fraud-related charges can fall within the Criminal Code, the MPIC Act or the Highway Traffic Act, and that a conviction in any case is “a serious consequence.”

Potential charges that can be laid include making a false statement, fraud over $5,000 and fraud under $5,000, with penalties like financial fines, criminal charges or restitution orders to pay back MPI.

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“Insurance fraud is not a victimless crime and this criminal activity affects honest Manitobans through their premiums,” Wennberg said.

Last year MPI said its Special Investigations Unit logged $10.2-million in claims savings by the end of November through nearly 1,200 investigations.

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— With files from Sam Thompson and Will Reimer