Most insurers employ private investigators to snoop on customers, often when they are seriously ill, Financial Mail has learnt. And several big names, including Britain’s biggest insurer Aviva, use spies from security firm G4S, which was last week accused of breaking the law by entering a policyholder’s home on a false pretext to take secret pictures.
Our probe into insurers’ use of undercover sleuths follows allegations that a G4S snoop, posing as a delivery man, secretly filmed Tanya Joiner, a policyholder with insurer Zurich, in her living room.
Deceiving customers to enter their homes and then filming them with hidden cameras breaks the insurance industry’s own rules on surveillance. It is also illegal, according to privacy experts.
Tanya’s £27-a-month Zurich policy, taken out in the early 2000s under the Allied Dunbar brand, was supposed to pay £101,000 on diagnosis of a critical illness, or if she became too ill to work.
Last year Tanya, 38, who worked in marketing, claimed under the policy because she suffers from lesions on her spine, arthritis and other problems, and cannot work.
Zurich refused to pay, disputing her level of disability. The claim is now being adjudicated by the Financial Ombudsman Service. To build its case, Zurich engaged G4S – which hit the headlines over its failure to supply enough security guards for Olympic venues – to gather evidence against Tanya.
Tanya only learnt of the surveillance last May after forcing Zurich to release the files held on her. ‘When I saw the photos of me in the living room I felt sick,’ Tanya says.
‘I remembered that in late November last year a man had come supposedly to deliver a parcel, insisting I sign for it. My husband assumed it was a Christmas present so sent the man into where I was lying in the living room. But it was just a Next catalogue, wrapped up.
‘We thought it peculiar, but it was months before we learnt what he was really doing, and that he had a camera hidden in his clothes.’
Files disclosed by Zurich suggest G4S secretly filmed Tanya and her family for at least six days. But Tanya reckons the surveillance lasted much longer.
‘As recently as six weeks ago my daughters said they’d been filmed by a man in a blue Mondeo car,’ she says. ‘I get panic attacks, I’m always looking for cameras, and the girls keep the curtains closed.’ Tanya does not claim disability benefits and is supported by her husband Paul, 43, who runs a golf business.
For more than a decade Financial Mail has highlighted problems over critical illness policies like Tanya’s, where insurers have wide scope to reject claims. They usually undertake exhaustive checks only when claims are made – for instance, scouring medical information they hadn’t bothered to read when they first offered cover. There have been improvements, but one in ten claims is still rejected.
Corinna Ferguson of civil rights charity Liberty says: ‘The legal regime is not rigorous in controlling surveillance activity. In Tanya’s case there was at least six days’ filming, which looks disproportionate. We are aware of a number of similar cases where insurers are taking it too far.’
Ferguson believes that G4S’s subterfuge when entering Tanya’s house makes it guilty of trespass.
Zurich stood by its decision to refuse Tanya’s claim, but distanced itself from G4S’s actions. ‘In this case we instructed an investigator to undertake routine surveillance,’ it said. ‘Entering the customer’s home was a step too far.’
G4S said: ‘As this case may be subject to litigation, it would be inappropriate to comment.’
EIGHT MORE BIG INSURERS WHO CONFIRM THEY MAY USE SLEUTHS
They are: Aviva, Bright Grey, Scottish Provident, Aegon, LV=, Standard Life, Friends Life and Legal & General.
Aegon says it deploys investigators ‘very occasionally’ while Royal London, which oversees policies under the Bright Grey and Scottish Provident brands, also says instances are ‘extremely rare’.
L&G says private detectives may be used in its general insurance business (such as motor policies) but not its ‘protection’ business (including health and life insurance).
Standard Life says snoops are not used to check up on health insurance claims, but could be used concerning life insurance.
Of the insurers above, only Aviva admits to using investigators from controversial security firm G4S.
Aviva says: ‘In the very small number of cases where we have suspicions about a claim, we will investigate further. We are satisfied that G4S complies with the appropriate legislation.’
The Association of British Insurers says snoops are used only where there are ‘strong grounds for suspecting fraud’. A spokesman says: ‘If insurers did not take action against fraud, honest customers would pay even more.’
The ABI’s surveillance guidelines state: ‘It is important the insurer leaves the private investigator in no doubt that they obtain information by legal means only.’
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