A Hamilton-area man’s dashcam may have saved him a pricey car insurance payout – and maybe even from falling victim to an insurance scam, an industry expert says.

While he can’t know for sure, Craig Schneider says he feels like he narrowly avoided being taken advantage of, and now wants people to know how useful dashcams can be.

“You can get a dashcam for 80 bucks and protect yourself,” Schneider told CBC Hamilton. “I still get infuriated by it – that there are people out there who would do this.”

'We’ve seen many staged collisions where people are setting up crashes to take advantage of auto insurance claims.'- Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer and industry relations for Ontario with the Insurance Bureau of Canada

The incident happened in the McDonalds parking lot at the corner of Barton Street East and Lottridge Street on Monday evening, Schneider says. He was pulling out of the drive-thru when he saw a man get into the passenger side door of a large silver truck. You can see what happened in the video player at the top of this story.

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The truck pulled towards the parking lot’s exit, and Schneider pulled up behind them. He says he looked to his left, and “sure enough, in the corner of my eye I see movement.”

“I lay on the horn and boom – they smashed into me.”

'He started screaming at me'

Though the video has no sound, Schneider says that’s when one of the men jumped out of the truck and immediately started yelling at him. “He started screaming at me and saying I wasn’t paying attention and saying I had to pay for the damage,” he said.

That tune changed when Schneider mentioned the dashcam, he says. “Then the driver kept saying ‘be a man and don’t go through insurance.’” Police weren’t called at that point, and generally wouldn't be for an incident in a private parking lot, says Pete Karageorgos, the director of consumer and industry relations for Ontario with the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

“We’ve seen many staged collisions where people are setting up crashes to take advantage of auto insurance claims,” Karageorgos told CBC Hamilton. “It’s hard to tell in this case if this was that, or someone who just wasn’t paying attention.”

But then Schneider’s story gets even more bizarre. While still in the parking lot, he and the two men exchanged phone numbers. Schneider gave his full name, though the other men would only give their first names. One of them also called Schneider’s phone, he says, to “check and see if it was the real thing.”

They all drove off without a dollar figure being discussed – something Schneider admits wasn’t the wisest move, but attributes to being shaken up after the entire incident. Then, five minutes later, his phone rings. He knows it’s the men from the collision, as he recognizes the number.

'It's just ludicrous'

Except this time, they’re pretending to be cops. “But they sounded exactly the same. I even recognized their voices,” Schneider says. He repeatedly asked for a name and badge number, but the man on the other end of the phone wouldn’t give one, he says. Then they hung up. “They called from the same number minutes before. It’s just ludicrous,” he said. “This is the calibre of people we’re dealing with here.”

That’s when Schneider says he got fed up and went to the police. He filed a collision report and told the police about the two men allegedly impersonating a police officer – but was told they couldn’t do much about it without more evidence.

Police spokesperson Debbie McGreal-Dinning told CBC Hamilton that local police couldn’t comment on the incident.

“Through discussion with our traffic unit and upon review of the YouTube video the Hamilton Police do not have enough information with regards to the totality of the incident and are not in a position to comment on it,” she said.

“And whether it was fraud or not is a whole other story altogether.”

But Schneider has already made up his mind about that. “This is blatantly a scam,” he said. CBC wasn’t able to locate the two men seen in the video.

Karageorgos says that on the insurance side, having dashcam footage handy will likely help Schneider out when dealing with an insurance claim. “Typically, if you’re the person who has the front end damage in a situation like this, you’re at fault,” he said. “Here, it seems to be the person in front tried to make it sound like the other person is at fault.”

A staple in Russia

Anyone who has spent time watching dashcam collision videos on YouTube knows the majority of them come from Russia, where the practice is extremely popular to prevent insurance fraud. According to Al Jazeera, an estimated one million people across Russia have installed cameras in their cars.

Now, the practice is becoming more popular in Canada, Karageorgos says. “It’s a trend where you’re basically creating a silent witness,” he said. “It’s something people are investing in.”

“It would be extremely difficult for [Schneider] to prove his series events without one.”

There are some limitations too though, Karageorgos cautions. Dashcams typically just point in one direction, and can sometimes get in the way of a driver’s sightlines. “It’s a question of ‘is it going to impede your view?’” he said.

But Schneider is totally convinced his investment was well worth it. “I’ve seen some crazy stuff through the years, so I thought I’d protect myself,” he said.

“But I wasn’t expecting it to be like this. It was $80 well worth it.”