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Life insurers predict fraud and crime surges for 2020 and 2021

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the life insurance industry has reported a rise in fraudulent claims during 2020, with other more sinister pandemic-related schemes likely to emerge in 2021.

The year 2020 was a landmark year in many ways – mostly negative, as the COVID-19 pandemic and its financial fallout ravaged South Africa and the world. This includes the life insurance industry; practitioners say they’ve seen a significant rise in fraudulent claims during 2020, no doubt due to the year’s widespread financial hardship for many.

“We have seen an increase in fraudulent claims, as has the entire life insurance industry,” says CEO of MiWayLife, Craig Baker. “We generally experience this when people are under financial pressure, but the level of upheaval related to COVID-19 will almost certainly increase the risk and we expect the final numbers to reveal an uptick in fraud for both the 2020 and 2021 years.”

Although the figures are not yet in for 2020 officially, the Association for Savings and Investment South Africa (ASISA) reported in December that South African life insurers detected 2 837 fraudulent and dishonest claims to the value of R537.1 million in 2019. This is likely to increase substantially for the 2020 year, according to Baker.

“2020 can’t be compared to 2019 in terms of life insurance numbers any more than 2020 can be compared to 2019 in other areas – it really was an absolutely unique year,” says Baker. “I don’t think we can read too much into the statistics as official 2020 figures are not yet in and 2019 was so different to 2020. What we can look to is what we know of human behaviour. When times are hard and people are financially strained, they tend to push boundaries and bend the rules a little more than normal. The life insurance industry sees, time and again, that fraud increases when employment decreases and the economy is stretched. People are under financial pressure and this generally manifests in some chance taking.”

Unfortunately, this likely means things will stay the same before they get better. “Unfortunately, the financial strain caused by COVID-19 is still with us, for now. This means that fraudulent claims are likely to go up further in 2021 as we see the long-tail effects of the economic strain ripple through the market,” says Baker.

“We are also bracing for increased activity of syndicates in this space who will use the fact that there have been an increased number of deaths in 2020 as an opportunity to create fraudulent schemes through which they attempt to claim benefits,” Baker went on to say. The dubiously good news here is that fraud, forgery and other typical criminal and syndicate-related activity must, under the Prevention and Combatting of Corrupt Activities Act, be reported to the authorities for priority crime investigations.

Regardless of the fraud (which is generally perpetrated by a small group in the overall scheme of things), one of the most important takeaways from 2020 – with 2021 potentially another hard one coming – is the need for life insurance, says Baker.

“2020 has taught us that lives get disrupted, that we are vulnerable. Many have suffered job losses, loss of health or of loved ones and this really reemphasises the need for standalone life cover. This is the protection required when you change or leave jobs or get sick, and provides peace of mind that, should something happen to you or your loved ones, you will all be taken care of. So, if there are any lessons to learn from 2020, it is to have your protection in place for unexpected circumstances. It is the security that gets us through the uncertain periods.”

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Kirsten Hopwood-Reynecke [email protected]