Consumer Alert: Windshield Repair Scams

You’re getting your car cleaned at the carwash. Suddenly a stranger walks up and insists on replacing your windshield for free.

How odd, you think. Your windshield’s in good shape. It doesn’t need replacing.

Your auto insurance will pay for everything, the stranger says. He also promises you free movie tickets and a nice cash rebate that covers your deductible.

Careful — this is a windshield swindle that can create a serious safety hazard for you and your passengers, fleece your insurance company, drive up your auto premiums, and land you in jail.

THE SCAMS

Replace undamaged windshields. Typically, crooks will convince drivers to replace perfectly good windshields. The crooks then lie to your insurance company that the windshield was seriously damaged and needs repairing. Next they’ll charge your insurer needless and inflated repair costs.

Inflate real damages. Swindlers might replace an expensive windshield that only has a small crack or nick that could easily be repaired at little cost. They might also charge insurers to replace several chips when only one chip was repaired.

Charge for phantom damages. Some con artists charge your auto policy for several windshield replacements without you knowing it. Once they have your insurance information, you’re at their mercy, even after they’ve long disappeared.

Fly-by-night operators. Often the swindlers are fly-by-night operators. They’re poorly trained, work out of pickup trucks in parking lots, and disappear after quickly finishing shoddy repairs. They often approach people at car washes, gas stations, parking lots of convenience stores, or booths at county fairs. The con artists can be aggressive, and continually pester you to do the bogus repairs.

Crooked body shops. Most body shops are honest, but crooked operators may try to involve you in similar windshield scams when you bring your vehicle in for repairs.

High-volume business. Windshield swindlers make their profits from high-volume business. They can replace a windshield quickly and easily, then charge large and costly markups.

Offer freebies. To succeed, the crooks must convince motorists to take part. The con artists make the scam seem innocent, harmless and risk-free. They usually offer an inducement, like free steaks, movie tickets or car washes.

Offer cash rebates. They also may offer you a cash “rebate” or inflate the repair bill to cover your deductible. In states that require insurers to waive the deductible for repairing windshields, crooks may mention this loophole to convince you the repairs really are free.

THE PRICE YOU PAY

You and your passengers face a serious safety risk. First, the replacement windshield could be cheap, substandard glass that easily cracks or shatters while you’re driving. Poor optics also may distort your view of the road and hazards. Second, the crook may install the windshield poorly. The windshield thus can pop out if you’re in a crash. Incoming debris then could strike occupants; drivers and passengers could be ejected; and the roof might collapse during a rollover because the windshield is a vital structural component of your vehicle. Third, real repairs can be shoddy. This could make small cracks or nicks quickly grow bigger.

Your auto premium can increase. You’ve just added a needless claim to your insurance record, which could raise your premiums. Fly-by-night operators also can disappear, leaving you without a warranty or contact person if you have a problem.

You could lose your auto insurance. If a crook secretly charges several windshield replacements against your auto policy, you could lose your coverage because multiple claims within a short period can be grounds for cancellation. Then you’ll have the hassle of trying to straighten out your insurance record with your insurer.

Everyone’s auto premiums increase. Windshield swindles increase everyone’s auto premiums in the longrun because fraud losses get passed onto honest policyholders everywhere.

You could face jail and fines. Making a repair claim for a windshield you know is undamaged could get you convicted for insurance fraud. This can mean jail, fines and a permanent criminal record.

FIGHT BACK

• Just say no if you’re approached by a salesperson in a parking lot or other public place… or if the repair firm offers to replace a windshield that isn’t damaged… or they offer you cash rebates to offset your deductible, or promise freebies like free car washes.

• Report the incident to your state insurance department.

• Ask your insurance agent and company for reputable windshield-repair firms.

• Some insurance companies will repair small cracks or chips free of charge. You’re assured of good — and safe — workmanship at no cost. Contact your insurer instead of an untrained con artist if you have a small ding.

Visit our website or call ACBI at 203-259-7580 if you have any questions or would like the name of a reputable glass repair professional.

Home Insurance Claimants Who Use Agents Happier Than Those Who Don’t

One of many reasons to use an Independent Agent for your insurance needs.  Please visit our website or call ACBI at 203-259-7580 to see how we can assist you.

Satisfaction among home insurance claimants who file through agents is 50 points higher than it is for those who file claims directly. However, the percentage of customers filing through direct channels continues to increase.

That is according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2013 Property Claims Satisfaction Study, which also found that overall homeowners  insurers continue to get high marks for claims handling even as they have faced two of the heaviest years-—2011 and 2012 — for claims. Overall satisfaction in the 2013 study is 832 (on a 1,000-point scale), significantly increasing from 823 in 2011 and 818 in 2010.

In a separate study last September, J.D. Powers said customer satisfaction was at a record high.

For the approximately eight percent of homeowners in the U.S. filing a property claim this year, the average settlement amount is $8,517, up from $7,937 in 2012. While the amount of the settlement to cover contents increases by nearly $250 year over year, the amount to cover the cost of repairs increases to $7,844 in 2013 from $7,151 in 2012. The average out-of-pocket expenses paid by homeowners nearly doubles to $3,888 in 2013 from $1,945 in 2012.

The most frequent reasons for filing a claim are tornado/hurricane (33%); hail (22%); and water damage not caused by weather (14%).

The study, now in its sixth year, measures satisfaction with the property claims experience among insurance customers who filed a claim for damages covered under their homeowners’ policy by examining five factors: settlement; first notice of loss; estimation process; service interaction; and repair process.

“Despite increases in both the frequency and average severity of property damage in the U.S. during the past two years, the fact that customer satisfaction remains high is a testament to how diligently the personal insurance industry has responded to its customers,” said Jeremy Bowler, senior director of the insurance practice at J.D. Power and Associates.

While overall satisfaction remains relatively stable year over year, satisfaction with the service interaction process declines by nine points in 2013, compared with 2012. Much of that drop in satisfaction likely is due to the continuing trend of homeowners filing their claim via direct channels—typically online or by calling a call center—rather than through an agent., according to researchers.

The study finds that 68 percent of customers file their recent homeowners claim through direct channels, a significant increase from 57 percent in 2012. Satisfaction is 50 points higher among customers who file a claim through their agent, than among those who file a claim through direct channels.

“For the industry average, the call center experience fails to deliver the same level of service as an agent,” said Bowler. “Especially during times of hardship when someone’s house has been destroyed or their valuable possessions have been lost, it’s difficult for a call center representative to replicate the personal relationship customers get with an agent. However, a select few direct insurance companies buck this trend, achieving call center service scores that compete favorably with the best agency writers.”

Among customers surveyed for the 2013 study, 72 percent who filed with an agent say their agent helped put them at ease, while just 56 percent who filed direct say their call center representative did the same.

Reprinted from InsuranceJournal.com

Top 10 Driving Distractions Involved in Fatal Car Crashes

Of the more than 65,000 people killed in car crashes over the past two years, one in 10 were in crashes where at least one of the drivers was distracted. That’s according to police report data analyzed by Erie Insurance in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), a nationwide census of fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes maintained by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Erie Insurance consulted with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety in its analysis.

Erie-Insurance-Distracted-Driving-Infographic-725x1024

“Distracted driving is any activity that takes your eyes off the road, your hands off the wheel, or your mind off your primary task of driving safely,” said Doug Smith, senior vice president of personal lines at Erie Insurance. “We looked at what law enforcement officers across the country reported when they filled out reports on fatal crashes and the results were disturbing. We hope the data will encourage people to avoid these high-risk behaviors that needlessly increase their risk of being involved in a fatal crash.”

The analysis, which looked at data from 2010 and 2011, showed police listed the majority of drivers who were distracted as “generally distracted” or “lost in thought.” Police also listed several more specific types of distractions.

Below are the top 10 distractions involved in fatal car crashes:

Rank Distraction Type Percentage of
Distracted Drivers
1 Generally distracted or “lost in thought” (daydreaming) 62%
2 Cell phone use (talking, listening, dialing, texting) 12%
3 Outside person, object or event, such as rubbernecking 7%
4 Other occupants (talking with or looking at other people in car) 5%
5 Using or reaching for device brought into vehicle, such as navigational device, headphones 2%
6 Eating or drinking 2%
7 Adjusting audio or climate controls 2%
8 Using other device/controls integral to vehicle, such as adjusting rear view mirrors, seats, or using OEM navigation system 1%
9 Moving object in vehicle, such as pet or insect 1%
10 Smoking related (includes smoking, lighting up, putting ashes in ashtray) 1%

Smith added that because FARS data on distraction is based largely on police officers’ judgment at the time of the crash, and because some people may be reluctant to admit they were distracted when being interviewed by police after a fatal car crash, the numbers are difficult to verify and may, in fact, under-represent the seriousness and prevalence of driving distractions.

The data is meaningful, however, because unlike surveys in which consumers self-report the types of distracted behaviors they engage in, the FARS data is based on actual police reports on fatal crashes.

10 Things to Know About Home and Auto

  1. There are more than 132 million housing units in the United States, more than 80 million of which are detached, single-family homes, and roughly one-in-four of those homes were built prior to the 1970s. (U.S. Census Bureau)
  2. In 2011, homeowners insurance accounted for 14.9 percent of the total direct written premiums for all property casualty lines of insurance. (SNL Financial LC)
  3. A 2012 poll found 96 percent of homeowners had homeowners insurance, but only 31 percent of renters had renters insurance. (Insurance Information Institute)
  4. Five million existing-home sales are expected to occur this year, and the median home price in the U.S. was $173,600 as of January. (National Association of Realtors)
  5. More than 15.4 million new vehicles will be purchased or leased in the U.S. in 2013, up by 1 million vehicles over 2012. (National Automobile Dealers Association)
  6. In 2011 less than 1 percent of those with liability insurance had a bodily injury liability claim while 3.5 percent of those with liability insurance had a property damage liability claim. (Insurance Services Office)
  7. Passenger cars per capita in the U.S. numbered 627 to 1,000 people as measured from 2008 to 2012. It was 427 in the United Kingdom and 472 in Norway. The per capita in Bangladesh was 2. (The World Bank)
  8. In 2011, auto insurance paid out $117.4 billion for auto insurance claims. (Insurance Information Institute)
  9. There are more than 1,700 fatalities and 840,000 injuries yearly due to vehicle crashes on public highways. (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration)
  10. Sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 4.6 seconds, the equivalent-at 55 mph-of driving the length of an entire football field, blind. (U.S. Department of Transportation)

If you have any questions about your Home, Auto or other types of insurance, ACBI can help.  Visit our website or call the office at 203-259-7580.

Most Common Wedding Insurance Claims From 2012: Travelers

Couples look forward to having their wedding day memories preserved forever through photography and video, but according to an analysis of 2012 wedding insurance claims by Travelers, 58 percent of all wedding claims related to vendor issues involve problems with the photographer. Travelers reminds couples that they can help protect their wedding budget by considering wedding insurance.

Travelers-wedding-claim-data

Travelers’ claim data found that vendor problems resulted in the most frequent causes of wedding day mishaps for its customers, accounting for 24 percent of all wedding claims received. Illness and injury accounted for 19 percent of the total wedding claims with 15 percent attributed to venue issues. Wedding day mishaps associated with weather accounted for 14 percent of claims.

Travelers Wedding Protector Plan can provide more protection to help couples avoid the added costs of unexpected wedding glitches. It also covers expenses associated with recreating the special day, from retaking photos to purchasing fresh flower arrangements to extending the tuxedo rental.

In 2012, the average cost of a wedding was $25,656 according to The Wedding Report, a research company that tracks the wedding industry, with U.S. couples spending approximately $4,178 on their photography and videography.

“Photos are one way that brides and grooms hope to preserve the precious memories of their wedding day, and couples should have the right protection in mind to insure against potential loss or damage for something so valuable,” said Chantal Cyr, vice president of Travelers Personal Insurance. “As the cost of weddings continues to increase, engaged couples need to know that they have options for protecting their investment. A wedding is about being able to celebrate your special day, not a time to be worried about mishaps, weather or cancellations.”

Twenty-one percent of vendor-related issues involved a caterer going out of business. Problems with DJs not showing up or going out of business accounted for 11 percent of the claims, with five percent of claims citing issues with wedding planners.

The Wedding Protector Plan can be purchased from Travelers for as little as $160. It covers items such as lost deposits, perishable materials, unavoidable cancellation due to weather or military leave, lost or damaged photographs, damaged gifts, host liability and more.

Do you need insurance coverage for your big day?  If so, ACBI can help!  Call us today at 203-259-7580 or visit our website for a quote.

Top 10 Consumer Complaint Categories

 Source: FTC.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released its top 10 consumer complaint categories for 2012. For the first time ever, the agency received more than two million complaints. Of the two million complaints, 18 percent were related to identity theft. Of those 18 percent, almost half were related to tax or wage fraud.

The list of the top 10 complaint categories:

  1. Identity Theft – 369,132 complaints
  2. Debt collection – 199,721 complaints
  3. Banks and Lenders – 132,340 complaints
  4. Shop-at-Home and Catalog Sales – 115,184 complaints
  5. Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries – 98,479 complaints
  6. Impostor Scams – 98,479 complaints
  7. Internet Services – 81,438 complaints
  8. Auto-Related Complaints – 78,062 complaints
  9. Telephone and Mobile Services – 76,783 complaints
  10. Credit Cards – 51,550 complaints

The FTC uses the Consumer Sentinel Network to record complaints throughout the year. The database is available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies across the country and helps agencies research cases and track targets.

Among the federal and state law enforcement agencies contributing to Consumer Sentinel are the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the offices of 14 state attorneys general. Private-sector organizations contributing data include all Better Business Bureaus in the U.S. and Canada, PrivacyStar, Publishers Clearing House and others.

State regulators handle most insurance complaints and the FTC report does not track insurance as a category. However, in the identity theft statistics, 0.3 percent of complaints involved misuse of information for insurance purposes.

Fraud

Over one million complaints were fraud-related. Consumers reported paying over $1.4 billion in those fraud complaints; the median amount paid was $535. Fifty-nine percent of the consumers who reported a fraud-related complaint also reported an amount paid.

Fifty-seven percent of all fraud-related complaints reported the method of initial contact. Of those complaints, 38 percent said email, while another 34 percent said the telephone. Only 9 percent of those consumers reported mail as the initial point of contact.

Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported fraud and other types of complaints, followed by Georgia and Maryland.

Identity Theft

Government documents/benefits fraud (46 percent) was the most common form of reported identity theft, followed by credit card fraud (13 percent), phone or utilities fraud (10 percent), and bank fraud (6 percent).

Other significant categories of identity theft reported by victims were employment-related fraud (5 percent) and loan fraud (2 percent).

Complaints about government documents/benefits fraud increased 27 percentage points since calendar year 2010; tax or wage-related fraud accounted for the growth in this area, with 43.4 percent of identity theft victims reporting this problem in 2012. Employment-related fraud complaints, in contrast, have declined 6 percentage points since calendar year 2010.

Forty-two percent of identity theft complainants reported whether they contacted law enforcement. Of those victims, 68 percent notified a police department. Fifty-four percent of these indicated a report was taken.

Florida is the state with the highest per capita rate of reported identity theft complaints, followed by Georgia and California.

If you have any questions about your insurance and coverage for fraud, contact ACBI at 203-259-7580.

How Obamacare Could Affect Property Casualty Insurance

The key changes in federal health care reform remain months away but property/casualty actuaries are already trying to determine what impact they will have on their own lines of business, particularly workers’ compensation and medical malpractice.

Elements of the Affordable Care Act have been phased in since the law’s 2010 passage but many key reforms begin January 1, 2014. Property/casualty actuaries need to consider the potential impact of these effects so they can adjust rates and reserves when changes occur.

At the recent Casualty Actuarial Society’s (CAS) Ratemaking and Product Management Seminar, two fellows of the CAS led a discussion of the health care law’s major changes and how the reforms may affect property-casualty lines.

Many of the law’s measures have already been enacted But, according to Laura N. Cali, chief actuary and manager of product regulation for the Oregon Insurance Division, the biggest changes remain, including requiring everyone to buy insurance and eliminating health insurers’ ability to deny coverage.

Key questions include:

  • How effective will the individual mandate be?
  • Will the uninsured population entering the market be healthier or less healthy than current insureds?
  • How much pressure will fall upon primary care givers like physicians, as millions of new insureds seek treatment? Will more treatment be handled by non-physicians, such as nurse practitioners, and what impact will that have?
  • How will medical specialists be affected? They may not face an instant influx of patients, the way primary care physicians will, but demand for specialists’ services will increase as new insureds work their way through the system.

The law is creating “a lot of new regulations,” Cali said, “and it’s happening quickly.”

The changes could significantly affect property/casualty insurance, said Anne M. Petrides, a director and consulting actuary with Towers Watson, although as of now it is hard to tell what impact the reforms will have on liability and costs.

The changes could either increase or decrease liability and costs in medical malpractice and workers’ compensation but the impact will differ by state as both lines are sensitive to state laws and regulations, Petrides said.

Health care reform will increase the number of people who have health insurance, which could reduce medical malpractice liabilities if new insureds are able to visit doctors earlier than they would have without insurance and receive earlier treatment.

Early treatment could lead to better medical outcomes and thus help prevent the adverse outcomes that can trigger malpractice lawsuits.

But the increase in the insured population could raise liabilities, as more patients per unit exposure would imply more potential risk. Also a physician shortage could impact the frequency of medical errors.

The same change could lower costs in workers’ compensation if greater access to health care created a healthier workplace. But it could increase costs if a doctor shortage delayed treatment and a return to work.

Also for workers’ compensation, costs could go down if research created greater agreement on what are now questionable treatments. But costs would go up if the research indicated more treatment, or more expensive treatment, is warranted.

Reform’s attempt to create financial incentives for improved care and patient safety could lower medical malpractice liability if the incentives work as intended. But liability could increase if failure to qualify for an incentive becomes considered as evidence of negligence.

Other lines will be affected, too. If reform triggers a wave of mergers and acquisitions, directors and officers coverage could be at risk. Auto liability could be affected by any changes in how medical care is provided. For both workers’ compensation and auto liability coverages, uncertainty exists if decreases to provider fees in the health care system will require the providers to shift shortfalls to third party payors so as to remain financially sound.

Cali and Petrides agreed that while it’s impossible to know right now how this will all shake out, property/casualty actuaries can begin gathering and analyzing data that will help them respond when changes do occur.

Source: The Casualty Actuarial Society