Kenny Allen was a likable fellow. He went to church, coached youth basketball in the Muncie, Ind. area, and was making his way through life with limitless potential ahead.
He also lived in a secret world: He was an insurance thief. Kenny was a driving force behind the largest home arson ring in Indiana history. And one of the largest ever in the U.S. His gang helped torch at least 73 buildings while he sang hymns of righteousness in pews.
Insurers were easy to defraud, Allen says. Their adjusters were so intent on making customers happy — he contends — that they rarely asked tough questions. Insurers could’ve quickly exposed the claims for burned homes as money grabs with a little more effort.
Kenny went straight after nearly five years in federal prison. He admits he screwed up, and today gives workshops for investigators to help make amends. He partners with Mike Vergon, the former ATF agent who arrested him. They’re friends and supporters in life — a touching story of Kenny’s redemption.
Yet his saga speaks to a bigger dilemma for insurers. If they investigate too many claims too closely, they risk policyholders thinking they’re cold and money-grubbing.
If insurers let too many suspect claims slide through too easily, they risk being prey for hunters like Kenny was. This slippery slope can grow fraud losses, help raise premiums and — yes — reinforce a belief among many consumers that insurers are cold and money-grubbing.
Life isn’t always fair when you’re an insurance company, no matter how many good deeds you perform. Corporations are targets of consumer upset simply because they’re big and make money.
Checking closely into suspicious claims can trigger a lot of emotions. Fair or not, people’s feelings of aggrievement or entitlement can quickly damage an insurer’s reputation. Especially when viral social posts can reach millions of sympathetic consumers in just hours.
Over the longterm, it’s a risk worth taking, and a story worth telling.
Insurers should do a far better job of telling people why they fight fraud — and why all policyholders benefit.
Being justifiably known for protecting policyholders from thieves seems like a pretty good way to build a business brand. And doing right by consumers.
If Kenny Allen’s right, taking the easy way out could’ve cost insurers more than millions in false arson claims. He’s the first to admit, it’s a miracle nobody died in his fires.
About the author: Jim Quiggle is director of communications for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.