100,000+ Insured Vehicles Soaked in Louisiana

The August downpours that dumped more than 30 inches of rain in two days on parts of Louisiana have left as many as 100,000 cars and trucks damaged – and that’s only counting insured vehicles.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), says claims reporting and vehicle recovery efforts that were initially slowed by the large scale flooding are now in full swing and, according to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, the numbers are much higher than originally expected.

Based on the extensive vehicle losses following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana enacted strong measures to help protect unsuspecting consumers from buying a flood-damaged vehicle. Once an insured vehicle has been determined by the insurer to have been flood damaged it is towed to one of the auction facilities and processed with a new title that indicates it has been water damaged. In Louisiana, during an emergency like the recent flooding, the severity of flood water damage may require a Certificate of Destruction. In that case, the vehicle has to be crushed, or sold to a company that will dismantle it for parts and destroy what remains. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is entered into the state’s records, NICB’s VINCheckSM, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Identification System (NMVTIS) so that the consumers can check a vehicle history before purchasing a used car or truck.

Flooded vehicles that did not have insurance coverage are a major concern as they are frequently cleaned up to hide the damage and then sold to unsuspecting consumers with no indication of a problem. The number of uninsured vehicles that were flood damaged may be even more than the number of insured vehicles since many owners choose to drop their policy’s comprehensive coverage as the vehicle ages.

“It’s buyer beware,” said Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Karen St. Germaine, who warns those in the market for a used car both in state and across the country to do their homework before putting any money on the line.

Tips

  • Look for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and in the wheel well where the spare is stored. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
  • Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Check a trusted database service. You can check NICB’s free VINCheck database and the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicle’s site. There are also reliable services that charge a small fee for history reports.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.

For more tips click here.

NICB and state officials, including the Louisiana State Police, work closely to pursue possible insurance fraud and vehicle theft. If you suspect fraud, call the NICB Hotline at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).

When Hail Hits Storm Chasers Arrive

The recent hail storm that damaged thousands of homes and vehicles in the Colorado Springs area has once again attracted an onslaught of “storm chasers” – unscrupulous contractors going door-to-door to try to get victims to let them repair their roofs or other hail damage.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says Colorado was second only to Texas in the number of hail damage insurance claims from 2013 to 2015 (Hail Claims).

NICB warns that the thousands of homeowner damage claims and millions of dollars that are being paid out by their insurance companies have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of contractors claiming to be “licensed” and going door-to-door, without being invited, to solicit business. All too frequently, victims will allow them to go up on their roofs to inspect for damage, without knowing if the company has a valid license or has proper business insurance. Homeowners may find themselves liable if someone is injured on the roof without proper workers compensation or business insurance.

In some cases, the contractors will take the victim’s money, make limited repairs or no repairs at all, and disappear – leaving the property owner victimized a second time.

Working with a coalition of insurance industry, consumer, contractor industry and government groups, NICB is urging consumers to know their rights under legislation passed in the state in 2014 to protect them from high pressure tactics. Those include the right to know the following:

  • Scope of work and materials to be provided.
  • Cost for same based on damages known at the time the contract is entered into.
  • Approximate dates of service.
  • Roofing contractor’s contact information.
  • Identification of contractor’s surety and liability coverage insurer and their contact information.
  • Contractor’s policy regarding cancellation of contract and refund of any deposit including a rescission clause allowing the property owner to rescind the contract for roofing services and obtain a full refund of any deposit within 72 hours after entering the contract.
  • A statement that if the property owner plans to pay for the roofing services through an insurance claim, the contractor cannot pay, waive or rebate the homeowner’s insurance deductible in part or in whole.
  • A statement that the contractor shall hold in trust any payment from the property owner until the contractor has delivered roofing materials to the job site or has performed a majority of the roofing work on the property.
NICB reminds victims to do their homework and resist the pressure from unwelcomed contractors. Remember, if you didn’t request it, reject it! For more information on the Colorado campaign on social media search #NoRoofScams.

Hail Claims Fluctuate Over Past Three Years

Tell a claims adjuster in Texas today that hail damage claims decreased over the past three years and they might consider you crazy. Dealing with thousands of claims from recent record storms in the Dallas and San Antonio areas, insurers and their customers know how Mother Nature can be peaceful one day and in a fury the next.

A hail damaged windshield from an April 2016 storm in Wylie, TX.

A hail damaged windshield from an April 2016 storm in Wylie, TX.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) today released the most recent three-year analysis of insurance claims associated with hail storms in the United States. In 2013, there were 720,473 hail damage claims filed. That number increased in 2014 to 824,325 then dropped in 2015 to 572,182 claims–an overall decrease of 21percent from 2013 to 2015.

The nation experienced 10 major hail-producing storms during this period according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), each of which caused over $1 billion in property damage. While experts debate why these storms occur, no one argues with their effects—extensive property damage and many times, loss of life.

According to data from Verisk’s A-PLUSTM property database, U.S. insurers paid almost nine million claims for hail losses, totaling more than $54 billion from 2000 through 2013.

In recent years, the costs of these hail-related claims has dramatically increased. The average claim severity during the period 2008-2013 was 65 percent higher than it was from 2000 through 2007.

Weather-related property damage can be as minimal as a few broken shingles to total destruction of buildings. This report focuses on insurance claims resulting only from hail damage.

A total of 2,116,980 hail loss claims were processed from January 1, 2013 through December 31, 2015. During this period, the top five states generating hail damage claims were Texas (394,572), Colorado (182,591), Nebraska (148,346), Kansas (127,963) and Illinois (120,513). The top five months, on average, when the most hail loss claims were reported during this period were May (165,087), April (149,040), June (129,085), March (61,072) and July (55,650).

Download the complete NICB hail loss claims report here.

Enduring a hail storm is challenging enough, but property owners must also be aware that in the wake of any severe storm, they may be visited by unethical contractors posing as sincere repairmen. Often, these “storm chasers” will descend on disaster areas and go door to door offering their repair services. Although most are honest, some are not. If the dishonest ones get your money in advance of performing any work, you’ll never see them or your money again.

That’s why NICB reminds consumers to always check first with their insurance company before signing any documents presented by a contractor whom you did not request to appear. It’s why we say, “If you didn’t request it, reject it.”

NICB has produced a new public service announcements on contractor fraud that can be seen here and here.

The following tips are also helpful:

  • Get more than one estimate
  • Don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away
  • Get everything in writing
  • Require references and check them out
  • Ask to see the contractor’s driver’s license and write down the number and the license plate on his or her vehicle.

More consumer protection information is available in our library of brochures.

Fraud Files: Severe Storms Slam the South

Enduring a hailstorm is challenging enough, but property owners must also understand that in the wake of a severe storm, they may be visited by unethical contractors posing as sincere repairmen. Often, these characters will descend on disaster areas and go door to door offering their repair services. Although most are honest, some are not. If the dishonest ones get your money in advance of performing any work, you’ll never see them or your money again.

NICB urges storm victims to work with their insurance company and to be careful in selecting a contractor to do repairs. Do not allow someone to force you into signing a contract or paying up front for work or supplies.

More consumer protection information is available here.

Hail Storm Slams Northern Texas

A storm rolled into Northern Texas Monday night and produced a destructive hail storm. The most significant damage occurred in Wylie, Texas near Dallas. As you can see below many homes, as well as vehicles, were damaged in this incident.

WylieHail1

Becoming a victim of a hail storm may be impossible to avoid. But you can avoid being victimized by dishonest contractors who often go door to door in damaged neighborhoods offering repair services. While many contractors are honest and reputable, others are not. Educate yourself against unscrupulous vendors. When contractors offer you their services, consult this checklist before becoming a customer.

  • Work with only licensed and insured contractors.
  • Get more than one estimate. Don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away.
  • Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be completed, time schedule, guarantees, payment schedule and other expectations should be detailed.
  • Require references, and check them out.
  • Ask to see the person’s driver’s license, and write it down. Also, get the vehicle’s license plate number.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks. Fraudulent contractors may enter unacceptable terms later.
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is completed.
  • Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
    WylieHail2

How to Avoid Post-Disaster Scams

As Texas and parts of the South-Central U.S. recover from widespread flooding and hail damage, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reminds consumers to beware of buying flood-damaged vehicles and falling victim to unscrupulous home repair contractors.

The worst losses occurred in Texas where hail caused an estimated $600 million worth of insurance claims for damage to homes and autos.

Car Sales Fraud

As with all major natural disasters, NICB assists law enforcement agencies, insurance and car rental companies with identifying and cataloging water-damaged vehicles to keep them from being resold to unsuspecting consumers.

Already, authorities estimate that thousands of vehicles may have been flooded.

“NICB agents see it time after time. Natural disasters bring out dishonest salvage dealers who don’t tell you that the vehicles they’re selling are heavily water-damaged,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle.

“Consumers need to know that these vehicles may appear advertised for sale without any indication that they were affected by the flooding. As always, buyers should be careful when considering a used vehicle purchase in the weeks and months following a disaster like this.”

To help avoid buying a vehicle that has been declared salvage (including flood-damaged vehicles), NICB recommends that buyers take advantage of its free online service called VINCheckSM. VINCheck contains vehicle data from insurance companies representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market and lets buyers see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered.

Home Repair Fraud

In the weeks ahead, homeowners in disaster areas should be alert to the potential for fraud by unscrupulous contractors and home repair businesses.

Roofer“Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments,” said Wehrle. “As any recovery gets underway, fraudsters often converge on affected areas to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs. The last thing victims of disaster need is to be victimized again.”

After a disaster, contractors often go door-to-door in affected neighborhoods offering clean up and/or construction and repair services. Most are reputable, but many are not. One common scheme is to pocket a down-payment and then never show up for the job, or never complete a job that was started. Another scheme is to use inferior materials and perform shoddy work that is not up to code in order to increase profit.

“If you didn’t request it, reject it”

Almost all of these scams are unsolicited—they begin with a visit from a contractor who seeks to help victims rebuild. That is why NICB recommends that “if you didn’t request it, reject it.” Before hiring any contractor, call your insurance company. Your insurance company will honor its policy so there is no need to rush into an agreement with a contractor who solicits your repair work—especially when you did not request it.

Unlike other states, Texas does not require a license for a roofing contractor nor is one required for solicitation. Local jurisdictions, however, may impose certain requirements before contractors can solicit work within their boundaries. One example is the City of Garland that requires anyone soliciting for the purpose of selling or offering to sell goods or services, must first retain a solicitation permit through the Garland Police Department.

NICB suggests you consider these tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate
  • Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations should be detailed
  • Demand references and check them out
  • Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number
  • Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code
  • Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
  • Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them
  • Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company

Consumer Resources

  • For a free brochure with tips to avoid post-disaster fraud, click here.
  • For useful checklists, including how to spot flood and salvage vehicle scams and post-disaster contractor repair schemes, click here.
  • For free consumer access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies who collectively provide 88 percent of the auto insurance in force today, access NICB’s VINCheck.

Oklahoma Efforts Limited Fraud Following 2013 Moore Tornado

Unprecedented planning by state and local authorities, law enforcement and the insurance industry established what is being called a national model for protecting the public from fly-by-night contractors in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), preparation in advance of the F-5 tornado that devastated the city of Moore and surrounding areas in May 2013 resulted in a well-coordinated effort to ensure that roofers and other contractors who swarmed into the area in the hours and days after the storm were properly licensed, insured and authorized to work in the area.

Local police assisted the Oklahoma Insurance Department Fraud Unit in patrolling the area and keeping suspected fraudulent out-of-state contractors from doing work unless all protocols were followed.

For an update from Oklahoma, watch this video.

Oklahoma City was the site of the recent 2016 National Tornado Summit where Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak told NICB, “It’s much easier to fight fraud on the front end rather than on the back end.” Doak and others said the insurance industry did a highly commendable job of responding to the catastrophe and paying claims as quickly as possible. However, some homeowners who signed contracts or turned over money to contractors before the work was done have found themselves out of luck after the insurance claim money was taken by the contractor. He said insurers have begun issuing bank debit cards to policyholders in an effort to provide funds as soon as possible, while at the same time allowing the victims to avoid turning over their claims check to a possible scam artist.

Thanks to the planning efforts, the number of suspected fraud cases has been far less than expected in the aftermath of such a devastating storm. But now, nearly three years later, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is seeing a disturbing trend.

“At this point and time, it is local contractors,” said Julie Bays, Chief of the Consumer Protection Unit. “Contractors who have set up shop here or out of state contractors who have established a local office, have told homeowners who have already paid out funds that the work is going to get done, but it never gets done.”

Bays says many homeowners are now finding that they have liens filed on their property by subcontractors who may have purchased supplies or done some repair work, and were never paid by the general contractors. One such case led to the extradition of a contractor who had fled to Kentucky. He was brought back to Oklahoma to face charges of embezzling $170,000 from storm victims.

The NICB is also working with its member companies and law enforcement on cases of alleged overbilling and charging insurers for work that was never done. “It’s a very competitive business, so some contractors will cut corners or submit false claims in order to get a customer’s business and their insurance money,” said NICB Special Agent Mark Wenthold.  “In a time when the insurers are doing their best to help the victims, they see the insurance industry as a soft target.”

As the spring tornado season arrives, NICB offers these tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate.
  • Never let a contractor pressure you to hire them.
  • Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language for you.
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company.
  • Get everything in writing, including cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations.
  • Demand references and check them out.
  • Ask for and record the salesperson’s driver’s license and vehicle license plate numbers.
  • Make sure to review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks to avoid unacceptable terms being added later.
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a certificate of completion until the work is finished and you have verified that it meets code requirements where you live.
    f-5-tornado-moore-oklahoma-in-2013-3-HR

    The F-5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma in 2013 resulted in an onslaught of potentially unscrupulous contractors into the area. Local and state authorities were praised for keeping them out of the area and limiting the amount of insurance fraud committed against victims.

    moore-tornado-rebuilding-and-repairs-continue-4-HR

    Nearly three years after the Moore tornado, rebuilding and repairs continue. Some contractors are being investigated by authorities for failing to complete the work or committing insurance fraud.

On the Lookout For Fraud in Tornado Damaged Areas

The Dallas Morning News recently went out with the Texas Department of Insurance and witnessed firsthand their fight against roofing scams after the Dec 26th tornadoes hit the Dallas area.

Roofers

Workers are removed from a roof in Rowlett, TX for not having a permit.

As we reported yesterday, after a disaster, contractors will often go door-to-door in neighborhoods that have sustained damage to offer clean up and/or construction and repair services. Most of these people are reputable, but many are not. The dishonest ones may execute schemes to defraud innocent victims. One common scheme is to pocket the payment and never show up for the job, or never complete a job that was started. Another scheme is to use inferior materials and perform shoddy work that is not up to code in order to pocket more profit.

Last year the TDI received 15,000 complaints regarding insurance fraud.

The best part is that roofers are not the sharpest shingles in the box. They don’t realize as they are being interrogated by TDI police that the state insurance department has no regulatory authority over them.

Here’s a video of the disaster area as law enforcement and TDI officials were on the lookout for potential fraud.