BANGKOK -- Insurance claims over popular COVID-19 insurance policies in Thailand have grown tenfold since last year, prompting insurance authorities to launch investigations into possible fraud.
The Office of Insurance Commission, the country's insurance regulator, has warned on its website it is investigating possible insurance fraud after seeing COVID claims soar.
As of end-April 2020, when Thailand began witnessing a third wave of the pandemic, the number of COVID-19 policyholders stood at 13.8 million with total premiums of 5.9 billion baht ($184 million), according to the OIC. COVID-19 claims for the month jumped to 1.7 billion baht from 170 million baht the previous year.
Analysts attributed the rise in COVID-19 claims to the pandemic-battered Thai economy, which has seen people hit so hard that they deliberately risk infection to receive insurance payouts.
With suspicious claims rising, some major non-life insurance companies have stopped selling COVID-19 policies. Bangkok Insurance announced on its website that had stopped selling policies on June 29 while Viriyah Insurance stopped on June 30.
The Thai General Insurance Association -- which comprises all 56 non-life insurance companies in Thailand -- is warning people against deliberately becoming infected with COVID-19 in order to claim compensation because they may face fraud charges.
The warning comes after several viral social media posts showed families celebrating after receiving payouts due to having contracted the virus.
"There is even a young lady selling inhalers on her Facebook page that she says contain the coronavirus," said a senior official at the OIC. "Buyers can use the inhalers to get infected and then claim compensation. That's why we need to issue the warnings. They not only risk catching COVID but also risk breaking the law."
When COVID first struck Thailand last year, several insurance companies started to offer non-life COVID-19 insurance policies. Customers could buy 100,000 baht to 300,000 baht of coverage for only about 500 baht a year.
The insurance companies now find themselves not only covering claims for legitimate people suffering from the virus, but also the economically desperate who purposely catch the deadly disease to collect money.