The Year of the Snake, 2013, wasn't lucky for motorists who slithered onto Manitoba Public Insurance's Top Five Frauds list.
The annual list highlights the most brazen behaviour of those trying to bilk the Crown corporation with bogus claims.
The top item on the list involves a man whose blood-alcohol level was twice the legal limit when the truck he was driving hit a train and killed his friend. He claimed it was his friend who had been driving and he was the passenger.
Video evidence from a camera mounted on the train's locomotive proved the surviving man was behind the steering wheel at the time of the July 2012 collision in the Rural Municipality of Springfield. Many of his personal injury protection plan benefits were denied based on his having consumed alcohol.
MPI estimates catching the fraud saved about $150,000.
The No. 2 fraud involved a staged collision between two high-end vehicles that were extensively damaged and written off. Two men who said they didn't know each other opened collision claims with MPI for their ruined Jaguar and BMW. The public insurer investigated and found the men were business partners and friends. They were seen riding in the same vehicle during a business trip.
An independent collision analyst examined both vehicles and concluded only one was in motion at the time of crash.
The analysis found the Jaguar was the "bullet vehicle" and the 2007 BMW was the "target vehicle." Both men pleaded guilty to making a false statement and were fined $2,000 and $1,700, respectively. MPI estimates catching the fraud saved MPI nearly $50,000.
The No. 3 fraud involved a Winkler man whose truck was stolen even though it was equipped with a working immobilizer.
The 62-year-old claimed his 2007 Dodge Ram was stolen from outside his rural home. The truck was found a day later parked under a large water hose attached to the community water-fill station. The hose had been placed in the vehicle's passenger compartment, filling it with water. The public insurer's special investigations unit -- which probes nearly 3,000 claims a year -- was called in.
The Winkler truck owner's claim went to court, where an expert witness explained the vehicle was equipped with an approved immobilizer, which had not been defeated.
The judge didn't believe the vehicle owner's story that someone had stolen his truck. He was fined $2,500 after he was found guilty of trying to defraud MPI.
The No. 4 fraud saw the kingpin behind a massive and complex auto insurance fraud investigation dubbed Project Rollback sent to prison for four years this fall. Quincy Adurogboye, 34, of Winnipeg pleaded guilty to eight counts of fraud over $5,000 and commission of fraud for the benefit of a criminal organization. He was ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to MPI.
Project Rollback began in 2005 after investigators learned dozens of used cars with high mileage were being purchased in Ontario, brought to Manitoba and altered to greatly reduce their odometer readings, which increased their value.
The fraudsters made phony "sales" to each other, insuring the vehicle at the increased price and then staging a series of accidents and thefts in order to cash in.
Forty-seven suspects were identified when the investigation ended in 2009. Only a handful remained before the courts this year. Most already pleaded guilty and were sentenced.
A Manitoban who moved to Ontario but kept his low-cost Manitoba insurance ended up paying a high price in the end, according to MPI's No. 5 fraud of 2013.
The man lived in Kenora and owned a business there but didn't buy auto insurance in Ontario because of the high cost there -- $12,000 to insure his car compared with $1,400 in Manitoba. The 22-year-old was driving his vehicle when he lost control and rolled near Kenora. The vehicle, valued at $24,000, was a total loss. He told his MPI adjuster he lived in rural Manitoba. An investigation confirmed the man was a resident of Kenora, owned a business there and was paying income tax in Ontario. His claim was denied based on the overwhelming amount of evidence against him.
"A lot of people will move to another province and keep their Manitoba insurance but don't realize the outcome if they're caught," MPI spokesman Brian Smiley said.
Anyone who knows someone involved in auto insurance fraud can call the MPI tips line anonymously at 204-985-8477 or toll-free 1-877-985-8477.