How an insurance ‘claim farmer’ towed Annette’s car away and charged thousands to return it

When a Perth woman called a phone number she found online, believing it was her insurer’s, she was caught up in a scheme that whisked her car away and charged more than $6,000 to return it. 

It all started when Annette, whose surname has been withheld for privacy reasons, had her car scratched by another driver while out at an appointment.

Her car was grazed all down one side but was not dented and was still driveable.

While waiting in the car for her husband to return, Annette decided to call her insurance company about a claim for damage.

She did an internet search for Budget Direct to find the company’s number, which was where all her problems began.

As she later discovered, Annette had clicked on a website that appeared high on search results and used her insurance company’s name and logo but was unconnected to the firm.

The woman she spoke to said she was a claim manager and said the organisation would handle the entire claim for her, including sending out a tow truck and a hire car that day, despite the car only having scratches.

Multiple panels of Annette’s car were damaged but the vehicle was still roadworthy.(Supplied)

“I said, ‘You won’t need to tow my car anywhere. I can drive it. I’ve been driving it all morning’, and she said, ‘No, this is the format now’,” Annette told Nadia Mitsopoulos on ABC Radio Perth.

“It’s been a few years since I’ve had an accident, so I just thought the format had changed.”

‘Your car has now been stolen’

It was only after a tow truck had arrived at her house, bringing her a hire car to drive and taking her own car away, that alarm bells began in ring in her head.

It was then that she looked at her policy paperwork and found the correct number for Budget Direct, her insurance company, and gave them a call.

“The gentleman at the other end was just so compassionate, and he was trying to not panic me,” she said.

“But after he assured me that there was no registered call from me to the company, he then said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but your car has now been stolen’.”

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