Car insurers softening their stance on remote jamming theft incidents

18 September 2017 - 17:44 By Wendy Knowler
Steering wheel. File photo.
Steering wheel. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/ IStock

It was back in January 2011 that the first reports of theft by remote jamming began to appear in South African media.

I warned consumers with these words: “It’s not enough to press the lock button on your car remote and walk away‚ thinking that what’s hidden in the boot is safe.

“Thanks to a new signal-jamming tactic being used by thieves‚ you may be unwittingly leaving your car unlocked‚ allowing thieves to help themselves to your valuables within seconds of your departure.”

And then I explained how it happens: “What the thieves do is monitor people in parking lots. As the car owner prepares to press the lock button on the remote control to lock the car‚ the thieves activate their own remotes – operating on the same frequency. This interferes with the signal and prevents the car from being locked.

“The car owner doesn’t notice the car hasn’t locked and walks away from it.”

It was particularly important to warn people of this stealthy crime in light of the fact that most insurers were rejecting those theft-from-motor vehicle claims on the basis that there was no forced entry.

It’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure that their car is locked before they walk away‚ they argued.

Technically‚ in a remote jamming scenario‚ the owners left their cars unlocked‚ hence no pay-out in most cases.

And the Ombudsman for Short-Term Insurance at the time ruled that policyholders were responsible for losses suffered‚ because the onus is on them to ensure that their car is locked when they park.

Over the years‚ remote jamming incidents have not abated‚ despite all the warnings. But there has been a big change in the way these claims are handled by the insurers - they have softened considerably on their “no forced entry therefore no claim” stance.

Last week Old Mutual Insure announced that “due to the increased prevalence of remote blocking incidents and customer feedback”‚ (our) policies cover items stolen from unoccupied motor vehicles‚ even if there are no visible signs of forced entry‚ provided some conditions are met.

“Previously‚ these policies only compensated customers for items stolen from unattended vehicles if there were visible signs of forced entry.”

Those conditions include a maximum payout of R10‚000 for any one event‚ an excess of 10% of each item stolen and only items specified in the policy schedule will be covered.

Telesure brands‚ including Auto & General‚ Dialdirect and First for Women‚ changed their stance on remote jamming incidents about three years ago and have been compensating their policyholders even if there are no visible signs of forced entry‚ on one rather major condition - “that the customer can show‚ for example with CCTV footage‚ that he or she made an attempt to lock the vehicle”.

The “softened” stance applies to all existing policies across the Telesure group.

Outsurance settles their client’s remote jamming-related claims‚ but only once‚ and a maximum settlement of R10‚000. “The client is generally more aware after being a victim and may prevent future incidents‚” the insurer said. “This is generally not a risk that we want pay out multiple times for the same client as it is preventable.”

Hollard said its “new standard policy wording” provides cover “up to a relatively small limit” if there was no forced entry in the theft-from-car incident.

“If there is proof that there was remote blocking - in other words something besides the insured’s claim on which to rely‚ such as CCTV footage or a reliable third party eyewitness account - then a higher limit applies.

“On our older policies‚ although losses are excluded‚ if there is no evidence of forced entry in terms of the policy wording‚ we still look at each case on its merits‚” said Warwick Bloom of Hollard group marketing.

“If there is any proof of remote blocking‚ we would look at the claim sympathetically.”

WHAT TO DO:

The obvious advice is never to leave valuables such as your laptop in the boot of your unattended car‚ but there are times when that is unavoidable for many of us‚ so always be hyper vigilant when locking your car with a remote. Get into the habit of physically checking that your vehicle has locked.

Because you’re human and distractions happen‚ find out whether your policy covers you in the event of theft-from-vehicle resulting from remote jamming. And pay attention to the terms and conditions. If there’s no cover‚ negotiate with your insurer to amend your policy on the grounds that their competitors do offer such cover.

If it does happen to you at a shopping centre - the most likely scenario - approach the centre management and ask to see their CCTV footage. Your insurer will want proof that you were the victim of remote jamming.

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