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Insurance Fraud: Avoid Becoming a Victim

Insurance fraud is not typically a violent crime, but it is a lucrative one. As consumers, there are several common-sense steps you can take to help reduce your risk of becoming a victim of fraud and minimize its impact.

Be an Informed Consumer. Insurance premiums are a significant expense for most of us. The premiums you pay are based on your individual claims history and the degree of risk involved. Generally, the greater the risk, the higher the premium. For example, the theft premium for a Cadillac will be far higher than that of a Toyota because more Cadillacs are stolen each year. Similarly, a stock car racer will pay more for life insurance than a librarian, all else being equal.

Comparison Shop. Premiums can vary significantly from insurer to insurer so it pays to shop around. To make comparison shopping a little easier, the Department of Financial Services publishes consumer guides for auto, homeowners, long-term care and HMO/health insurance. This website also contains a Guide to Annuity Products in New York that provides information designed to help consumers understand annuity products and some of the factors to consider when purchasing an annuity.

Know Your Agent or Broker. Consumers can sometimes be victimized by unscrupulous agents or brokers and discover only after they file a claim that they are without coverage. If an uninsured home is damaged by fire, the owner is solely responsible for restoring it and paying back any mortgage holders. If a driver is involved in an accident while driving an uninsured vehicle, any personal assets are subject to forfeiture if that driver is sued for damages. Deal only with licensed agents and brokers. They must maintain proof of licensure. Ask to see it.

Get Proof of Payment. Never make a premium payment in cash. Pay by check or money order made out to the insurance company directly or to the agency—not to the individual agent or broker. And always request a receipt.

Get a Copy of Your Policy. You should receive a copy of any type of insurance policy complete with endorsements and declarations specifically outlining your coverage and its limitations within a reasonable period after your purchase. If you do not receive it, question your insurer, agent or broker. If there is no satisfactory explanation for the delay, contact the Department of Financial Services at (800) 342-3736. You may not have the insurance coverage you paid for.

Pay Only for Services You Have Received. If you have received medical or dental treatment that is covered by a health care provider, you will receive an "Explanation of Benefits" statement listing the services for which benefits have been paid. Review it thoroughly to ensure that you have not been billed for services that were not rendered or for dates on which you were not treated. Check carefully to confirm that you were not billed for more expensive procedures than were actually provided, a practice known as upcoding.Contact your insurer immediately if you feel there are discrepancies.

Health care fraud translates into billions of dollars a year, resulting in higher premiums and increased costs for goods and services for all consumers. If you suspect fraud, contact the Department of Financial Services at (800) 342-3736. An investigator will contact you for details and the matter will be kept confidential.

What If You’re Involved in an Automobile Accident? Report the incident to the police and obtain a copy of the Police Accident Report. Be suspicious if the driver of the other vehicle insists it is not necessary to contact the police. That driver’s car may be uninsured or his/her insurance identification card may be fraudulent. Be sure to make note of the other vehicle’s license plate number and obtain important insurance information. If possible, take a photo of the damages.

Auto Insurance Fraud is a multi-billion-dollar problem nationwide. Watch out for these common scams:

Don’t allow high-pressure salesmanship to persuade you to sign up for a type of policy or certain coverages that you are not sure you need. Take time to decide what’s right for you.

Read your policy carefully before you sign. If you have questions, ask your agent or broker, or your insurer. An additional source of information and help is the Department's Financial Fraud & Consumer Protection Division.

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