Under normal circumstances, I'm not the sort of person who tells a complete stranger to b***er off.
Yesterday, however, was different. The refurbishments had just hit a snag when a lath-and-plaster ceiling suddenly decided to start a new life as a floor, necessitating expensive and time-consuming repairs, while an abundance of ladders and wet paint has turned every journey upstairs into a gymnastic exercise.
Naturally, I was upstairs when the phone rang; expecting the builders, I dashed down with as much speed as the obstacle course permitted to answer it. What followed was, alas, a script with which I have become all too familiar.
Last year, someone backed - very gently - into the side of my stationary car in a car park lane, causing a small dent which was fixed on his insurance; as I was in my car at the time, I was bombarded for months afterwards with calls urging me to claim for non-existent injuries.
Their evident bafflement that I was not prepared to lie - "The money has already been allocated; all you have to do is claim it!" - suggested that the usual response is rather different. No wonder MPs are calling for tighter control of payouts:
The committee pointed out that there has been a 70% rise in motor insurance injury claims in the past six years, despite a 23% drop in the number of casualties actually caused by road accidents.
The calls eventually stopped - until yesterday, that is, when the caller not only suggested that I should make a claim but said he had evidence that I had been admitted to hospital following the accident; when I said he was mistaken, he became aggressively insistent - hence my unaccustomed rudeness.
There was a certain irony to this blatant incitement to commit fraud on the very day that the issue once again makes the news. Perhaps my details, initially sold on by the insurers or repairers, have now trickled down past the merely shady into a stratum where fake hospital records and thuggish tactics abound.
The figure bandied about at present is that fraudulent claims are now adding £90 to the cost of car insurance, up from the £74 suggested last year, when a member of the Association of British Insurers described whiplash as a 'fraudster's dream'.
I wrote this last April, but it's as true now as it was then:
They have turned car insurance into a lottery – sure, you pay a bit extra up-front, but if your number comes up, there’s at least £1,500 waiting to be claimed every time. Having someone run into me and freely admit liability was the equivalent of a winning Premium Bond.