Former Aviva employee sentenced for stealing customer account details

An Aviva employee who passed thousands of customers’ motor insurance claims details to an associate who then sold them on to an accident claims management-company has been sentenced.

Matthew Cooper, aged 28, from Manchester, was sentenced to 10 months suspended for 12 months and ordered to work 180 hours unpaid at Manchester Crown Court having previously pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation.

This followed an investigation by the City of London Police’s Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED).

Cooper’s co-conspirator, Oliver Simpson, aged 32, from Manchester, also pleaded guilty to offences under the Data Protection Act and was fined £3000 and ordered to pay £1000 court costs.

Together they made approximately £20,000 stealing and selling the Aviva data. Cooper, working as a claims handler in Aviva’s bodily injury team, passed customer accident data from the claims file to Simpson.

Simpson would then hand the data to a firm who would use the details to make unsolicited phone calls to induce customers into submitting a claim for personal injury - even though they may not have been injured. The claims management company he passed these onto were unaware that the data had been stolen.

Some customers who were reluctant to co-operate were subjected to a high number of nuisance calls in an attempt to persuade them to change their mind. Those customers who went along with the arrangement, not recognising that they were being induced into making a fraudulent claim, were handed over to solicitors who submitted the claims on their behalf.

Following a number of complaints from customers in early 2013 and a number of third parties contacting Aviva to say they no longer wanted them to handle their injury claims directly, Aviva began a major investigation to look into the potential of a data theft.

As part of their internal investigation to identify the source of the potential theft, Aviva undertook an analysis of the activity of their claims handlers, the volume of claims within each handler’s footprint, and the number resulting in personal injury claims submitted through a solicitor. The person identified as the source of the theft was Matthew Cooper.

In September 2013 Cooper was interviewed by Aviva and claimed he was selling claims data to a man called ‘Steve’ who he would meet outside a pub in Manchester. He was immediately suspended and later dismissed for gross misconduct. The matter was reported to the Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department (IFED).

Aviva also contacted all customers who may have been affected by the theft of data to alert them to the issue.

Further investigations identified that cash deposits totalling thousands of pounds had been paid into Cooper’s account on a monthly basis between November 2012 and August 2013. It was also revealed that he was making regular payments to online betting sites.

Cooper was arrested by IFED detectives in November 2013. By examining his mobile phone the investigation team were then able to trace Simpson, who was arrested in March 2014.

Transactions from both Cooper and Simpson’s accounts later showed them being in Portugal on the same date.

Detective Constable Mick Jones, who led the investigation for the Insurance Fraud Enforcement Department, said:

“Matthew Cooper completely abused his position of trust and responsibility within Aviva, working with Oliver Simpson to steal and sell people’s personal data at a substantial profit to themselves.

“These are often not just stand alone offences, but instead can be one cog in a much bigger criminal wheel being controlled by organised crime gangs. By working with industry to bring criminals likes Cooper and Simpson to justice there is every chance we are also putting a dent in a much larger criminal network.

Andrew Morrish, Claims Operations Director, Aviva, said,

“We are pleased the two individuals have been brought to justice but it is not for Aviva to comment on whether the sentences handed to the pair are sufficient deterrent for a crime that causes so much upset.

“Stealing accident data in order to reap obscene profits for personal injury claims highlights the dysfunctional way the current claims system operates.

Aviva has a zero-tolerance attitude towards data theft, and we will work tirelessly with the Police, the ICO and others to bring to justice those that commit a crime by stealing our customers’ data."