Some personal injury law firms are looking to “buy” your data online through a practice called “claim farming”. It’s time for the practice to be shut down across Australia. Law firms are “buying” personal injury claims from unidentified 3rd parties on the internet. Injured people pay the price in more ways than one.
When an injured person first engages Polaris to investigate their options regarding a personal injury claim (for example, WorkCover, medical negligence or TAC compensation), we ask them about how they came to choose our firm. Often, people will tell us about the research they did before making their choice.
But what if your personal injury law firm was choosing you without you ever contacting them?
A few years ago, a lawyer told me that she went to the home of a new client. She knocked on the door and waited. When the door eventually opened, she introduced herself. The reply she got was shocking: “Before I let you in, I need to know how you got my details.”
The injured person had never contacted the law firm. So how was it that the lawyer came to be standing at his door?
The answer is “claim farming”, and unfortunately, it is more common than you may imagine.
What is claim farming?
Claim farming is a practice where digital companies gather online data about you, including your address and phone number, and then sell that data to law firms who contact you trying to make a sale.
Usually, the practice involves targeting people and putting pressure on them to make a compensation claim. People involved in claim farming are not interested in supporting people who have been injured. Instead, they are targeting vulnerable people with false promises and selling the information to law firms, who then pass on increased legal costs to the injured person.
You might have filled out a questionnaire online, clicked on a link or an ad to a “claim check” or a “compensation calculator”, or made an online booking. In 2020, Healthengine – a platform used by patients to make medical appointments online – was fined $2.9 million for selling patient health information to companies, with at least some of that data then being bought by personal injury law firms.
How can claim farming increase an injured person’s legal fees?
Clients of firms who engage in “claim farming” are paying additional costs to fund the practice – meaning that you may be paying thousands of dollars in additional fees for your important data to be sold online to your lawyer.
The practice of law requires that a client and their lawyer have trust and confidence in each other. Beginning the engagement with deception is ethically problematic, and all states and territories should send a clear message about the practice.
Is claim farming Legal in Australia?
In several Australian states, “claim farming” has been outlawed.
In 2022 in Queensland, the practice was made illegal.
Victoria (and other states and territories) should follow suit.
Are all law personal injury firms doing it?
Polaris is routinely approached by individuals and companies from Australia and overseas, offering to “sell clients”. We never buy client information or pay for clients or leads at Polaris.
Unfortunately, this practice has become a huge business for companies selling your information to businesses, including law firms increasingly desperate to win lucrative work.
On sites such as WeChat and Facebook, the practice is unfortunately rife.
How Can You Avoid Being Involved in claim farming?
Be careful when clicking on links or providing information, particularly very personal information like contact details, date of birth, and injury details to websites that don’t look legitimate.
If you are ever contacted by a lawyer or law firm unwittingly, ask how they got your information. If they can’t tell you where your information came from, they have probably bought information from you from an unscrupulous third party.
Finding the right lawyer for you can be challenging – but you’ll almost always regret engaging a law firm that needs to buy information about you and contact you without your permission.