Smartphone records reveal auto insurance fraud

Published: November 2, 2018

Updated: November 20, 2018

Author: Luke Jones

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Cell phones are a major concern for lawmakers and insurers as distracted driving numbers continue to increase. However, in one fraud case, a cell phone proved to be a defining factor in deciding if a British Columbia driver made a false claim by saying his truck had been stolen.

The case in question involved 22-year old Parker Winterbottom, who reported his 2006 Ford F-150 truck has been stolen in October 2011. Police were able to locate the vehicles close to Mission, B.C., although the truck had been burned out.

Winterbottom turned to the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC) and made a claim. ICBC is the monopoly public auto insurance provider in the province, covering all basic policies. After gathering the facts, the company decided to decline Winterbottom’s claim, arguing the owner had been involved in the loss.

ICBC claims Winterbottom could not prove the theft at best and was actively involved in destroying the vehicles at worst. Either way, the company denied the claims and the case went to courts. Among the reasons ICBC cited for its decision was the fact Winterbottom made false statements in the claims process.

However, the courts did not share the view of the insurer. ICBC could prove relative motive, such as still owing money on the truck, and known mechanical problems with the vehicle. Despite this, the court rejected each argument as the insurer had not provided proof.

Seemingly on the road to a legal success, Winterbottom was ultimately undone by his own cell phone records:

“The cell phone evidence is reliable and cogent, and it persuades me that Mr. Winterbottom was not where he said he was that night [the truck was alleged to have been stolen],” B.C. Supreme Court Justice Murray Blok wrote for the court. “It also indicates that at one point in the evening Mr. Winterbottom’s cell phone utilized a cell tower that serviced the same rural area where the burned-out truck was found. Perhaps most importantly, the cell phone and cell tower evidence persuades me that Mr. Winterbottom’s evidence cannot be relied upon.”

“Mr. Winterbottom agreed he woke up at 10 am the next morning, but he could not explain how that testimony reconciled with the five cell phone calls made from his phone between 8:39 am and 9:43 am that morning other than to say he did not remember them. Critically, his testimony about where he was located contradicted with the evidence of his cell phone location at various points that night and the next morning. None of this evidence adds up.”