The office of General Counsel issued the following informal opinion on January 10, 2001, representing the position of the New York State Insurance Department.
Re: Internet Search Service Company.com
May a company start an internet search service to contact insurance companies on behalf of a client to ascertain whether a specified decedent had a life insurance policy?
The proposed program would not violate any of the provisions of the N. Y. Ins. Law (McKinney 2000).
The inquirer is an internet search service company. Its goal is to provide clients with information concerning the existence of life insurance proceeds that might be due them or other family members, on policies which may have been lost, misplaced or otherwise escaped their attention. The company, on behalf of a client, will contact 250 insurance companies and/or any of their subsidiary or affiliated companies and provide the requestors name, address (home and e-mail), relationship to the decedent, the decedents name, date of birth and social security number. The client, by the use of the Internet Companys service, would grant authorization to an insurer to release the requested information (the existence of a policy in the name of a specified decedent) to the Internet Company, as the clients designated attorney-in-fact to receive the information. The Internet Company will only request information concerning the existence of coverage. It will never request beneficiary names or the amount of coverage.
The Internet Companys proposed program would not violate any of the provisions of the N. Y. Ins. Law (McKinney 2000). However, I would suggest that the Internet Company review the Departments recently promulgated regulation entitled Privacy of Consumer Financial and Health Information which addresses the type of information an insurer can release, as well as the consent requirement. N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 11, §420 (2000) (Reg. 169). Specifically, attention must be given to the definitions of "nonpublic personal financial information" and "personally identifiable financial information" contained in N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 11, §420.3 (2000) (Reg. 169). This regulation was adopted on an emergency basis and can be accessed through the Departments webpage at www.ins.state.ny.us/nyins.htm.
The N. Y. Aband. Prop. Law Art. VII (McKinney 1991), which addresses the treatment of unclaimed life insurance funds in New York, may also be of interest. Pursuant to N. Y. Aband. Prop. Law §700(c) (McKinney 1991), any monies owing by a life insurance corporation that are due to beneficiaries under policies issued on the lives of residents of New York who have died, which monies have remained unclaimed by the person entitled thereto for three years, shall be deemed abandoned property. Under N. Y. Aband. Prop. Law §§701, 703 (McKinney 1991) such monies have to be reported and eventually paid over to the State Comptroller.
This response is limited to the application of the statutes discussed above to the Internet Companys proposal. However, we would suggest that the Internet Companys attorney review its proposal with respect to any other requirements for doing business in New York.
For further information you may contact Associate Attorney Joan Siegel at the New York City Office.