Old vehicles and fake thefts: Inside an insurance scam in Delhi | Latest News Delhi

Insurance company Reliance General Insurance received seven claims for stolen Chevrolet Enjoy cars between April 2018 and November 2019, and individually, each case appeared legitimate. In each case, the vehicle was reported stolen while its owner or driver were away for some work. In each case, the insurance documents were valid and in order. And in each case, the police submitted an “untraced report” after probes lasting between a few weeks and a few months.

A photo that an associate of the suspect, Rajbir Singh, used to file for an insurance claim on a burnt Renault Duster. (HT Photo)
A photo that an associate of the suspect, Rajbir Singh, used to file for an insurance claim on a burnt Renault Duster. (HT Photo)

In four of the seven cases, the insurance provider paid the claimants, while in the remaining three, the payout still remains.

However, when seen together, the seven cases raised some pertinent red flags.

All seven Chevrolet Enjoys — a seven-seater vehicle which was discontinued in India in 2016 — were older than five years. All were second-, third- or fourth-hand vehicles. Each time, the vehicle was stolen within months of its purchase. Each time, the vehicle was reported stolen from a spot in Delhi which lacked CCTV coverage. Most importantly, the insured declared value (IDV) of each vehicle was much higher than its market value.

A further probe by the insurance company’s fact-finders — the firm’s term for its investigators — found that each vehicle was purchased for as little as one-third of their IDVs, police officers said. And the people filing the claims were allegedly all linked to a single man: Rajbir Singh.

According to police and insurance company fact-finders, Singh would buy cars on the cheap, get them heavily insured, and then either report them stolen or destroyed to pocket the insurance payout — investigators say he may be involved in defrauding as many as 10 insurance companies this way.

“We have so far linked Singh to 10 cases of fake insurance claims. He would either fake the theft of a car, or set his car on fire to claim insurance,” said Ravindra Yadav, special commissioner of police (crime branch).

HT reached out to Reliance General Insurance, but officials declined to comment on the case.

Before he allegedly began a life of crime, Singh, 53, saw plenty of ups and downs.

Originally from Jewar near Noida, Singh started working at a battery-manufacturing unit in Indore, before working his way up, and owning his own battery-making factory in the same city. Along with professional success, he also found personal happiness — he married a woman belonging to a rich family, police said.

But in an instant, all that he had worked for went up in smoke.

“His factory was razed to the ground in the riots following the Babri Masjid demolition, and he ended up in Delhi, freshly divorced and broke,” said Vinay Kumar, a crime branch inspector associated with the probe into Singh.

Starting from scratch, Singh started living in outer Delhi’s Najafgarh, and slowly rebuilt his life, and by the early 2000s, he had a fleet of around 50 cars which catered to the call centre of a prominent telecommunication company.

“In time, the call centre boom began to fade, and Singh was forced to downsize his fleet, but by then, he had learnt all there was to know about car insurance,” inspector Kumar said.

According to the police, Singh’s first known experiment with criminal enterprises was in early 2015, when he bought a stolen Maruti Ciaz. They said that in the beginning, he drove the sedan in fear, convinced that he would be caught.

“One day, when he was driving through Mathura, Singh spotted a damaged white Ciaz abandoned on the side of the road. He pulled out its number plate, fixed it to his own car, and prepared fake documents,” said inspector Kumar.

For the next two years, police said, he was able to drive the car without getting caught.

“That boosted his confidence. His fear was gone,” said Kumar.

This case only came to light only this year, after Singh’s arrest and interrogation.

After the first brush with crime, police said, Singh no longer bought stolen vehicles, and began using his knowledge of the car insurance industry to allegedly defraud insurance firms.

This year, on an average, Delhi reported 105 vehicle thefts. Just one in five cases is solved by the police. Investigators said that Singh used this to his advantage, by claiming that vehicles owned by him were being stolen. “Unless there is evidence to disprove a theft, we cannot deny a claim. In Singh’s case, we hardly had any evidence,” said a fact-finder, who declined to share his name or the name of the insurance firm he works for.

Investigators said Singh’s modus operandi was simple: he exploited loopholes in the insurance system and took advantage of the police’s lack of resources to carry out deep investigations in most cases of vehicle theft.

“His past experiences with the transport business taught him the nitty-gritty of insurance claims and gave him the confidence to pull off probing questions from ‘fact-finders’,” said Satish Kumar, deputy commissioner of police (crime branch).

Singh began by purchasing cars in his name, and then went on to rope in his relatives and friends. Police said he mostly targeted those car models which had been discontinued in India, as the lack of spare parts and genuine service centres brought down their price in the used-car market.

For example, Singh purchased used Chevrolet Enjoys for 1.5-2 lakh — the ex-showroom cost of the base model of the vehicle was 5.47 lakh in Delhi — but went for the maximum IDV while renewing its insurance. Investigators said that the last claim that Singh filed for an Enjoy was for 5.5 lakh.

“Insurance agents were more than happy to bump up the IDVs because it generated higher revenues in terms of premium,” inspector Kumar said, adding that the roles of some insurance agents too are under the scanner.

Investigators said that Singh would usually report the theft within 2-3 months of their purchase. “In each case, he would recce spots to make sure there were no CCTV cameras around. Often, he used drivers known to him to report the theft to the police, and paid them a few thousand rupees for the favour,” said DCP Kumar.

Singh would also usually get first information reports (FIRs) registered through the Delhi Police’s e-FIR portal, and used it to his advantage — investigators said he would neither have to face uncomfortable queries from the police, nor would he have to provide a detailed account of the theft in the FIRs.

Police said Singh’s was a low-risk, high-reward operation. For instance, he bought seven Enjoys for 11-12 lakh, but got a payout of 32 lakh just from four vehicles, with the claims of three others still pending. “Moreover, since the cars were never really stolen, he would get them dismantled and earn tens of thousands of rupees on their parts,” said Yashpal Singh, assistant commissioner of police (crime branch).

In July last year, a man approached Acko General Insurance to file a claim for his burnt Renault Duster – a car whose base model had an ex-showroom price of 8.5 lakh in Delhi, but was discontinued in early 2022. This man told investigators that he had parked his car on the side of the road in Aligarh when it went up in flames. As evidence, he produced photos of the burning car.

The case, however, raised a few red flags — the claimant was the third owner of the diesel vehicle, which was just a few months shy of the 10-year “end of life” period for diesel vehicles in Delhi.

“It made no sense for a Delhi resident to purchase such a car at that stage, and take an insurance cover of around 6.5 lakh,” said KB Raju, Acko’s associate director of claims recovery and investigation. “When we probed deeper, we got to know that the car owner was being tutored by a man named Rajbeer Singh.”

This was not the only case involving a Duster. “In less than a year, there were insurance claims for two white Duster cars. Singh was connected to both cars,” Raju said.

Confident that this was a scam, Raju tipped off the crime branch, which registered a case of cheating and criminal conspiracy on May 21, and police picked Singh up for questioning. That led them to the allegedly stolen Duster parked in a residential neighbourhood of Dwarka Mod. “Presented with evidence of his involvement, Singh confessed and was arrested,” DCP Kumar said.

According to police, Singh’s arrest opened a can of worms. “Word quickly went around on a WhatsApp group of insurance fact-finders. They ran a search of their databases to find that while there were different owners or drivers of the Chevrolet Enjoy cars in question, most of them had mentioned Singh’s phone number while claiming the insurance,” said a police officer involved in the case, who didn’t want to be named.

Eventually, police said, Singh was found involved in at least 10 cases of fake insurance claims, defrauding at least two insurance companies.

“We are probing his role in as many as 50-60 other similar cases and the possibility of him scamming up to 10 insurance companies,” said inspector Kumar.

Today, while Singh is out on bail, a 13-member dedicated team of the crime branch is working to unearth the entire scam. “Singh is so proficient at this job that there is every possibility that he’ll use imposters to continue this crime,” said ACP Singh.

HT attempted to reach out to Singh, but his mobile phone was switched off, and messages were not delivered to his number. However, his wife Chanchal claimed that he was being framed by the police. “The allegations against my husband are not true. You know how the police operate. But everything will be fine in the end,” she said.

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