A mother-of-two has been sentenced for attempting to defraud her insurer, AXA, through a fraudulent travel insurance claim worth over £3,000.
Chanelle Bell, 28, of Westminster, London, claimed that her luggage had gone missing and a pushchair had been damaged after a cruise from Barbados to Southampton in 2019.
AXA became suspicious of inconsistencies in Bell’s story, which led them to further investigate the documents she had provided to corroborate her claims. After contacting various retailers and a pushchair repair company, it was discovered that some of the documents had been edited by Bell, while others had been completely forged. These enquiries also revealed that many of the items Bell had reported stolen were online purchases she had already been refunded for, after informing the retailers that they had not been delivered to her.
The case was referred by AXA to the City of London Police’s Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED) for investigation.
Bell was found guilty of fraud by false representation following a trial at City of London Magistrates Court. She was sentenced on Wednesday 19 January 2022 to:
•12 weeks imprisonment, suspended for 12 months
•a 25-day rehabilitation order
•a 23-day electronically-tagged curfew with the requirement to remain at her home address between 8pm and 6am
•pay £828 in costs
Detective Sergeant Philip Corcoran, from the City of London Police’s Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED), said:
“The claims made by Bell were built on a foundation of lies and deceit. Not only did Bell attempt to defraud her insurer out of thousands of pounds, but she also deceived a number of popular retailers and even imitated a company. Thankfully, AXA noticed the discrepancies in Bell’s story before any compensation was paid, and reported the case to us for investigation.
“It is unsurprising that it took less than two hours for the trial to be completed, with the jury swiftly recognising Bell’s fraudulence. The outcome of this case should act as a deterrent for anyone considering exploiting their travel insurer for financial gain, particularly as Covid-19 restrictions on travel have mostly lifted and there are increased opportunities to travel abroad. This type of fraud is taken very seriously by industry and by the police, and will leave perpetrators with a criminal record.”
AXA was contacted by Bell in March 2019, following a thirteen-night cruise with her mother and children where she alleged her luggage had been lost by staff upon disembarking at Southampton. Bell rang AXA again a week later, stating that she had previously mentioned a pram that had been damaged by stewards alongside the lost luggage, despite making no such claim on the initial call.
The insurer informed Bell that they required the reference number for the report that would have been made at the port on the day of disembarking, as per the cruise company’s procedures for cases of missing or damaged property. Bell responded that she had made a report on the day, but was not aware that she needed a reference number, and therefore did not have one. Checks with the cruise company indicated that Bell had reported neither the missing luggage nor the damaged pushchair at the time.
Following AXA’s request for proof of purchase for the items Bell had declared missing, the claimant sent over a number of receipts and email confirmations for online shopping. Bell provided proof of purchase from two major retailers, totalling nearly £1,300. The retailers stated that Bell had been refunded for the majority of this amount, after she claimed that her orders had not arrived.
Further investigation into purchases with another popular online retailer, worth more than £500, uncovered that they had in fact been made in another customer’s name and to a different address. This led officers to deduce that Bell had edited the email confirmation in order to associate the orders with her name and address.
Two further receipts showed in-store purchases for suitcases, totalling nearly £450. However, the date of sale on the receipts proved that the items had been bought whilst Bell was on the cruise, and therefore could not have been made by her nor lost on the ship.
Bell even went to the extent of forging an email invoice from a pushchair repair company, using a genuine company’s logo and fabricating an employee name to sign off the email with. The company confirmed that there was no such employee and that Bell had not submitted an item for repair.
When questioned, Bell maintained that she had reported the missing and damaged property on the day, and that she had received an email from the cruise company acknowledging her report. Bell also said that the repair company she had imitated had collected the pushchair from her home address to assess the damage, but returned it after deeming it unrepairable.