Montana Insurance Commissioner Monica J. Lindeen warns Montana residents to be wary of “storm chasers,” or out-of-the area contractors who solicit repair work from homeowners, sometimes doing shoddy work or committing insurance fraud.
“We always see storm chasers after destructive weather.” Lindeen said. “Homeowners need to know how to spot a potential scammer before hiring someone to do repairs.“
Montanans should be aware of seemingly legitimate work crews who:
- Come door-to-door and try to get you to sign something immediately.
- Use high pressure sales tactics.
- Make offers of a free roof or siding — or offer a way around paying your insurance deductible.
- Have out-of-state tags on their vehicles or have out-of-state driver’s licenses. You can and should ask to see a driver’s license to verify identity.
- Are unable to produce recent, local references or references from before the storm.
- Are unable to produce a local supplier reference. Always check the references from a potential contractor’s suppliers because if a supplier isn’t paid in a timely fashion by a contractor, they can legally place a lien on your home.
- Are unable to produce a contractor’s license.
- Ask to submit your insurance claim for you. Never allow a contractor to submit your insurance claim or negotiate your claim with your insurance company. A contractor cannot legally negotiate a claim for you without proper licensure as a public adjuster.
What’s an insurance adjuster?
An adjuster is a licensed representative of the insurance company. They are responsible for handling claims made against the insurance policy, or against a policyholder. An adjuster investigates, evaluates, negotiates, and finalizes claims brought against an insurance policy or policyholder. They can be actual employees of the insurance company, or independent adjusters hired to handle insurance claims on behalf of the company.
- Insurance company adjusters do not work on commission, nor do they otherwise benefit by paying you less for a loss.
- Their objective is to pay exactly what a claim is worth under the terms of your policy of insurance – no more, no less.
- Just as it is wrong to underpay a claim, it is wrong to overpay one; in the end, everyone suffers through higher premiums.
- Their work hours extend beyond 8 to 5. Adjusters are on call 24 hours a day when an emergency strikes.
Call the CSI, or your insurer, to verify whether an adjuster is licensed.
What should you expect from an adjuster?
At a minimum, you should expect to be restored to the conditions that existed prior to the loss. You should also expect prompt, fair, and courteous service. You should not expect your adjuster to help you recover benefits you do not have under your insurance policy.
Avoiding Insurance Fraud
Fraud can be committed by a consumer, a contractor, a medical provider, an auto repair facility, or an insurance provider.
Fraud occurs when:
- A person tries to obtain money or benefits under an insurance policy based on false, incomplete, or misleading information.
- An insurer or agent accepts premium money knowing that coverage will not be provided.
- A person offers or accepts a direct or indirect inducement to file a false statement of claim with the intent of deceiving an insurer.
- A person presents counterfeit insurance documents to any person.
You can protect yourself against insurance scams if you stay alert, ask questions, and report any suspicious insurance transactions. Never sign blank insurance claim forms. Ensure that businesses and individuals are legitimate by asking for and verifying references. Search business names online for evidence of scams and check with the Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against them. Get multiple estimates and get all work in writing before making any payments. Don’t sign incomplete contracts. Don’t finish paying for work or sign a completion certificate until the work is done and approved by you. If you suspect insurance fraud, contact the CSI at 1-800-332-6148.