The most common insurance fraudsters are otherwise honest people indulging in opportunistic low-value crime, according to new Hampshire research.

Professor Mark Button, of the University of Portsmouth, has examined 40,000 claims handled by fraud investigators and found that the typical profile of a false claimant was someone aged between 31 and 50 who had never before made a dishonest insurance claim.

Using data supplied by fraud investigators, VFM Services, he said that the most likely false claims were for less than £500 for accidental damage to a computer, television or mobile phone.

He explained that the relatively low value of the claims reinforced studies which showed that people were more likely to commit insurance fraud if they felt they were not asking for large sums and who saw such crimes as only a ''little dishonest''.

He said: ''People who try to commit insurance fraud are highly likely to think a little crime won't hurt anyone, and are therefore opportunists rather than being serious professional criminals.

''Research on dishonesty suggests many people are prepared to be a little dishonest in life and a bogus household insurance claim may well be that perceived as a little dishonesty which mostly honest people allow themselves to engage in.''

His study revealed that men and women were equally likely to attempt to defraud their insurance company.

Claims for computers, mobile phones, jewellery and carpets peaked in early autumn which researchers say coincides with people having time to fabricate a claim, or whose return from an expensive holiday has given them a motive to invent or exaggerate a claim to help pay off bills.

Prof Button said that 82% of fraudsters claim for accidental damage which was likely to be because they could avoid having to obtain a police report.

This would be required if the item had been stolen and also involved committing another crime of wasting police time or perverting the course of justice, he explained.

One example of a false claim exposed by a VFM investigator was a man who said his flat-screen television had fallen off the wall and glass from the screen had been scattered all over the floor.

He withdrew his claim after it was pointed out that his make of television did not have a glass screen.

In another claim, a woman who said a seagull had taken an expensive watch from her enclosed back garden eventually admitted she had not seen a seagull and could not say why she had not reported the theft to the police.

She telephoned VFM the next day to say she had found the watch.

Research from the Association of British Insurers (ABI) has shown more than two-thirds of people either would not rule out or would think it was acceptable to make a false claim or exaggerate the damage or cost of an item that is lost or stolen.

Sally Griffiths, director at VFM Services, said: ''The findings in the report corroborate our experience from many years of investigating insurance claims.

''We know that the majority of people are merely opportunists either looking to bolster a genuine claim by exaggerating what was stolen or lost, or those who think they can simply get away with claiming for the odd TV or carpet.''

Further studies are to be carried out by the University of Portsmouth to establish fraudulent insurance claim risk according to where people live in the country and their income.