In 2016 there were 13,488 cases of attempted fraud or serious misrepresentation in life insurance claims, the Association for Savings and Investment SA (Asisa) said in a statistical release on Monday.
Business Insider South Africa spoke to Donovan Herman, the convenor of the Asisa claims standing committee, to find out how those attempts play out.
Nobody knows how many life insurance scams succeed – but these are the most common larcenous instincts that are foiled, from the least seldom detected to the most widespread.
Companies don't usually go under, or even go into limited retrenchments, without any warning. Often employees can see the future, and try to prepare for it.
But the more there are who can see trouble coming, the less likely they are to get cover, Herman says.
The insurance industry has grown pretty good at spotting a sudden spate of applications for retrenchment insurance from a particular employer, Hermans says. When that happens, such application are likely to be declines.
People who die soon after taking out life insurance sets off alarm bells, Herman says.
"There was a case recently of a 44-year-old who died within a month of a policy start, of natural causes." The insurance company later found that its supposedly healthy policy-holder had a history of chronic renal issues as well as hypertension.
Then again, Herman also recalls a recent death, from renal cancer, eight months after the start of a life insurance policy. In that case the claim was paid.
"It is possible for something like that to go undiscovered, and claims are paid if there isn't any evidence of non-disclosure," he says.
Some people get life insurance – and only then do they get tested for HIV.
"The signs are there, the symptoms are there, then before they get tested people get insurance," says Herman.
"If it can't be proven that the person knew they had it, the insurance will pay," says Herman.
Attempts at fraud in funeral-cover claims – which in 2016 made up more than 80% of all attempted life insurance scams – almost always revolve what the industry terms misrepresentation of insurable interest. In other words, people taking out policies on people who aren't family members, and sometimes little more than acquaintances.
Quite often, acquaintances from church.
"It is a proven fact that, in times of really bad health, people tend to turn to their congregations of priests for consolation," says Herman.
The knowledge of the probable impending death of another can seem like an opportunity, one work colleagues and fellow church members in particular tend to try to exploit.