B.C. brokers penalized for bridge toll fraud

B.C. drivers with unpaid bridge toll fees of $25 or more can't renew their auto insurance

At least three auto insurance brokers in British Columbia have been penalized for helping clients not pay the province’s bridge tolls, according to the Insurance Council of British Columbia.

B.C. drivers with unpaid bridge toll fees of $25 or more are not permitted to renew their licenses or auto insurance policies from the Insurance Corp. of B.C. Brokers can’t accept payments for toll bridge debts, but must direct customers to the applicable bridge administrator. They’re then required to confirm the customer has paid their debt before processing his or her auto insurance transaction.

The restrictions on renewing insurance policies of indebted customers are lifted when the broker enters a receipt number issued by a toll bridge administrator. Receipt numbers consist of two letters followed by five numbers.

50 false claims

Jacqueline Nicole Babcock, a broker who has been licensed in B.C. since 2008, entered 50 false toll bridge receipt numbers between January 1, 2014 and June 15, 2015. This allowed her to complete ICBC transactions for customers who hadn’t paid their toll bridge debts.

Of those 50 debts, eight were paid within five days of the insurance transaction. The rest were either paid several weeks or months later, or were never paid.

Babcock said she never knowingly entered false numbers, but that she didn’t always see the receipts from bridge toll administrators. Some customers allegedly texted or told her their receipt numbers.

The Council did not find this explanation credible, as few members of the general public would know about brokers’ ability to override the system. It also noted Babcock has a responsibility to see the receipts before entering the numbers.

“Council determined that given the large number of false toll bridge receipt numbers, the Licensee intentionally entered false information into ICBC’s system, or at the very least, willingly turned a blind eye to the process and entered false toll bridge receipts so as to facilitate ICBC Autoplan transactions,” it noted in its decision.

The Council fined Babcock $5,000.00.

Alphabet soup

Edmund George, a broker who has been licensed in B.C. since 2003, entered 34 false receipt codes into the ICBC system. He said some clients only gave him five numbers as a receipt code, which the system would not accept. He added that if the customer’s restriction was tied to an unpaid bridge toll, he would try entering the letters “PM,” “PB” or “GE” before the numbers he or she provided, and the transaction could be processed. He stressed he never made up the series of five numbers.

The Council also found this explanation difficult to believe. “. . . [George] never raised his practice with his agency or nominee, nor did he contact ICBC to get further guidance,” the Council wrote in its decision. “At the time of these events, the Licensee had more than 10 years of experience as a Salesperson. Council determined that an insurance licensee with that many years of experience would know better than to enter false information as part of an insurance transaction on 34 different occasions without following up with his agency or ICBC.”

The Council fined George $5,000.00.

Making it easier for himself

Broker Kanesaratna Sharma Sivagnanar Iyer, who has been licensed in B.C. since 2010, had a toll bridge debt when he wanted to renew his own policy. He entered a fraudulent number on February 18, 2015; renewed his insurance, and subsequently paid off his debt.

“The Licensee’s actions in entering a false toll bridge receipt number when renewing the insurance on his vehicle breached his responsibility to ICBC, as well as to the toll administrator,” the Council wrote in a disciplinary decision. “In bypassing his toll bridge debt requirements for his motor vehicle, Council determined the Licensee took this action for personal benefit or convenience.”

The Council suspended Iyer’s license for six months, until February 3, 2018.

According to the CBC, there are around 100 people under investigation, and 27 broker offices were fined and had their Autoplan Agency Agreements temporarily suspended as a result of the investigation.

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