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Travel insurer stung by $220,000 fraud

Travel insurer Cover-More has been left with a $220,000 bill after an employee carried out a long-running fraud. 

Former claims officer Zachary Clark, 45, was jailed for five years at Brisbane District Court last week, having pleaded guilty to “dishonestly gaining insurance claim payments” for himself and others between July 16 2019 and October 25 2021. 

A Cover-More spokesperson told it would not comment on the case, but confirmed Clark was a former employee.

"We will not comment on specifics of this case, however we will say that we continue to have strong confidence in the Australian judicial system and we take fraud matters very seriously," the spokesperson said.

The court heard that over more than two years Clark purchased 159 travel insurance policies using 156 fictional identities, and then submitted 204 claims for cancelled travel, overseas medical expenses, and lost or damaged luggage. He sometimes created fraudulent documents to back up the claims. 

He assessed and paid most of the claims himself, to bank accounts under his control, and was careful that each claim did not exceed $2000 as he knew that any payments over that amount could be audited. He also brought two friends into the scam, approving another 23 claims for their benefit. 

The total value of the fraud activity was $221,312.86. Travel insurer Cover-More, which is owned by Zurich, realised something was wrong after reviewing three suspicious claims in October 2021, and police were called. 

The court heard that Cover-More would not be able to recover the funds, as the defendant is in no position to repay them and the excess on Cover-More’s own insurance is greater than the loss. 

Clark confessed at the first opportunity, but the prosecutor told the court he made attempts to excuse his actions. 

“He did attempt to justify his offending behaviour by alluding to the fact that he was currently being paid $60,000, where in a previous job he was earning over $100,000. 

“He also made reference that he wouldn’t steal from a person but the Zurich Insurance Company made $21 billion profit. So in essence, he didn’t feel bad stealing the $200,000 from a company such as Zurich.” 

Clark’s representative argued that the married father-of-three was a good family man with no prior criminal history, and suffered from gambling and alcohol addictions. His best friend had also died suddenly around the time of offending, and he had been diagnosed with a melanoma, which affected his mental state. 

Judge Ian Dearden said the fact Clark had set up the “significant” fraud quickly after joining Cover-More was concerning, as was the length of time he continued it, but there were mitigating factors and strong character references. 

He jailed Clark for five years, but said he is eligible for parole from November next year, taking into account time already served.