Insurance fraud is no joke. It's been reported that each year, insurance fraud costs Canadians $3 billion. But occasionally you can't help but shake your head at some of the bizarre antics people attempt to make an easy dollar. To put a spotlight on this crime, the Insurance Bureau of Canada publishes its annual Top Ten insurance fraud stories of the year (Update: The IBC's Top 10 Insurance Crimes of the Year was last released for the year 2005.) Here are five of the weirdest and wackiest from 2005:

Dude, where's my car?

Stolen cars are one of Canada's fastest growing exports. Every year, an estimated 200,000 of them are loaded into shipping containers and sent overseas. One criminal thought he'd try to cash in on both ends of this illegitimate business. First, he exported his brand-new high-end vehicle to his home country in Europe. Ninety days later, he filed an insurance claim in Canada saying his car had been stolen. The trouble was his car had already been seized at a port in Belgium. Investigators were logically skeptical of a theft report about a vehicle that had already spent weeks impounded in Belgium. They questioned why it had taken him so long to notice it was gone. So did the insurer. Claim denied.

Fender-bender fraud

The man thought the damage to his vehicle appeared minor. He'd unintentionally hit the left front quarter panel as he was pulling out of a parking space. So he was surprised to get the large bill and list of replacement parts-including a new front grill and cooling system-that the body shop was sending to the insurance company. The insurer agreed something was wrong. During the investigation, a perceptive appraiser recognized that the damaged parts that the body shop employees said had been removed from the man's car were actually from another car. Playing around with somebody else's parts can backfire. The body shop is now being investigated by the police.

The Chop Shop King

He was an extremely prosperous man, and when insurance investigators and police looked into his car dealership and body shop operations it was clear to see why. He operated two busy chop shops-illegal garages where stolen cars are stripped for parts-and he ran a large side business that altered vehicle identification numbers. When police moved in, they seized 40 stolen vehicles with a cash value totaling $1 million. When the judgment came, the Chop Shop King was tossed from his throne, sent to jail to serve a six-year sentence and ordered to pay a $774,000 fine.

To Good to Be True

It seemed like a good deal to the car owners wanting a cut on their insurance rate. Salespeople at a few car dealerships and other businesses were offering an insurance special. There were charging $500-a "finder's" or "consulting" fee-to arrange insurance with a broker they claimed would save the car owners lots of money on premiums. The scam artists were putting false information on the applications so that customers would be put into a cheaper rate group. However, because the policies were purchased under false pretenses, they were invalid. It turned out that there were hundreds of policies and finder's fees amounting to about $1 million. The insurance company has since offered new policies, based on the correct information, to the duped customers.

The persistent neighbour

The ringleader didn't have to go past her backyard to find recruits for her gang of criminals. In the beginning she swayed friends and family to join her in staging car accidents and filing false claims. Business was good, so she decided to spread out by conscripting neighbours. A few of them joined her in this crime to make a quick, crooked buck, but she got very greedy and needed more accomplices. She got so desperate that she began constantly harassing neighbours who had previously turned down her proposal. In the end, someone became irritated enough to secretly record her pitch. It wasn't long before she was singing a different tune to police and Crown attorneys.

For more wacky insurance fraud tales (or to view 2003's or 2004's so-called winnters), visit the Insurance Bureau of Canada website. You'll shake your head in disbelief at some of the stories.

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