Canadian Underwriter

What insurance companies can do to help police

May 15, 2019   by Adam Malik

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Ottawa police laid more charges related to a busted a car theft ring that saw 50 vehicles stolen and totalled $2.5 million in value.

It’s a case in which the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) played a key role in helping police. But some things that insurance companies do can muddy the waters, says an insurance industry representative who used to be a cop. He said something as simple as completing all the paperwork and properly transferring ownership after a claim payout can go a long way to making the recovery of stolen vehicles a smoother process.

Not transferring the ownership to the insurance company after a claim is “a little bit problematic for us because it makes it more difficult for us to track down who actually owns the vehicle,” said Steve Gardner, an auto theft investigator covering eastern Ontario at IBC.

His advice to insurance companies is simple: Change the ownership to the insurance company name once the customer is paid out.

“Many of these vehicles, when we run them on the ministry of Ontario database, the last owner shows up as an individual – the person the car was stolen from,” said Gardner, who spent 30 years as a police officer in Ottawa, 12 of them in the organized auto theft division.

It could happen that the vehicle ends up going back to the original owner, Garder warned. If the stolen vehicle happens to be found by chance, police “could release it to the wrong person because there’s nothing there to indicate that the vehicle is owned by an insurance company.”

Skipping this step can save a few bucks initially but could cost more down the line. “A lot of times, the delay [in transferring ownership] incurs storage charges that are often much more than the cost of putting [the vehicle] in their name,” Gardner said.

Not to mention the additional headaches for everyone involved. When the insurance company wants to pick up the vehicle, they have to show proof of ownership to get the release. The company can’t get it back when ownership is in an individual’s name.

“It could – and often does – end up biting them in the backside when [the vehicles] do get recovered because it adds an extra step,” Gardner said. “Sometimes these vehicles will sit for weeks while a police services employee is trying to figure out who owns it. It can amount to substantial storage charges while someone’s trying to find out who actually owns it.”

As for the case at hand, it stretches back to August 2018 when charges were first laid against four men. That’s when Gardner got involved, helping police by identifying the stolen and recovered cars. Then he would get rid of the fraudulent identifiers, hunt down the insurance company that owns the vehicle, contact the claims agent and let them know the vehicle has been recovered.

Under Project Ravin, police, with Gardner’s assistance, were able to target one person in particular. He was charged over the weekend and appeared in court Tuesday for a number of offences ranging from possession of stolen property to laundering proceeds of crime over $5,000 to removing vehicle identification numbers.