British Columbia

Over 100 insurance brokers investigated for bridge toll avoidance scheme

At least three insurance brokers in B.C. have been penalized for entering fake payment receipt numbers into the Autoplan system.

Insurance Council of B.C. says 27 insurance brokers fined, temporarily suspended

The Port Mann Bridge connects Surrey and Coquitlam. B.C. drivers who have unpaid tolls from crossing the span can be blocked from renewing their driver's licence or car insurance until they pay up. (CBC)

The Insurance Council of B.C. says at least three brokers have been penalized for helping drivers avoid paying bills for bridge tolls by entering fake payment receipt numbers into the Autoplan system — and the organization says more than 100 could be affected by the time its ongoing investigation ends. 

In 2015, ICBC launched an inquiry after it discovered the false receipt numbers.

Following an 18-month investigation, the corporation said it had a list of fake receipts, all accompanied by the name of the broker that authorized the transaction.

The insurance council, which regulates brokers in B.C., says it has been working to ferret out those licensees and names three who have been disciplined.

Edmund George and Jacqueline Babcock have each been fined $5,000 for entering false information into the system 84 times between January 2014 and June 2015.

In Babcock's case, the disciplinary order says less than eight of 50 debts authorized by the broker were paid within five days. The rest were either never paid or cleared weeks later.

Kanesaratna Lyer has been suspended for six months. A disciplinary ruling from the insurance council said he skipped paying his Port Mann bridge toll to renew his own car insurance in 2015.

He later paid the bill but was suspended for breaching his responsibility to ICBC for his own "personal benefit or convenience."

There will be more than those three named, said Gerald Matier, executive director of the Insurance Council of B.C.. 

"There are a number of decisions where a tentative decision has been made, but the individual's time to request a hearing has not expired," he said.

Matier estimated there were around 100 people under investigation. 

A spokesperson for the corporation confirmed that 27 broker offices were also fined and had their Autoplan Agency Agreements temporarily suspended as a result of the ICBC investigation. 

More than two dozen insurance brokerage offices in B.C. were penalized as a result of an ICBC investigation into false receipt numbers being entered into the Autoplan system. (David Horemans/CBC)

In B.C., drivers who have unpaid tolls on the Port Mann or Golden Ears Bridges can't renew their licenses or car insurance until they pay up.

ICBC puts a "refuse-to-issue" hold on drivers' files, if their bills are more than 90 days overdue. To override the restriction, drivers have to pay the outstanding toll and give their official receipt number to an insurance broker, who punches it into the Autoplan system.

Valid receipts contain a combination of numbers and letters. 

"Brokers are given the capability to bypass a refuse-to-issue hold for legitimate reasons — primarily for when proof of payment is presented — but also so they can carry out transactions which do not have an insurance component, such as vehicle registration or transfer of ownership," said ICBC in a statement. 

"However, in the instances which led to these sanctions, brokers were bypassing a refuse-to-issue hold when they should not have been. These actions were in clear violation of ICBC procedures, ICBC's Code of Ethics and the ICBC Autoplan Agency Agreement."

ICBC says 27 broker offices were penalized with either a fine or temporary suspension of their Autoplan Agency Agreement for falsifying receipts. (CBC)

In May, the insurance council sent out a notice about ICBC's investigation, warning brokers it "will not tolerate" the misconduct and that any broker whose name came up would be subject to an investigation.

Neither ICBC nor the council would confirm how many licensees are on that list.

In 2015, the Transportation Investment Corporation — the Crown corporation that manages tolls — said drivers in B.C. owed about $3 million in unpaid Port Mann bridge fines.

ICBC blocked a record-breaking 25,000 people from renewing their licence or vehicle insurance that year over outstanding bills.