A gift of holiday flames

The holidays can be seen as a point of vulnerability

grinchThe grinch won’t be the only one trying to destroy Christmas. We’ve seen numerous cases of home arsons pop up right around the time when people should be thanking and embracing their families most. Some embrace the idea of an insurance payout and thank their family by torching their home.

On a cold December evening, just minutes before midnight, Debra Morris smelled smoke in her second-floor apartment. The mother of two rushed her family out, raced back inside to rescue her cat, and died in the blaze. Eventually, her landlord Jeffrey Alnutt got 25 years to life for the arson and murder.

Last month, a California couple was arrested for a holiday fire that destroyed their home one day before their policy was set to lapse. Investigators couldn’t find any trace of the items that were supposed to have been lost in the flames. In another case, firefighters discovered a N.Y. home burned to the ground on Christmas eve.

Firefighters yesterday issued a release warning homeowners against the dangers of fried-turkey fires. I hope that doesn’t give anybody any ideas. Christmas lights have also been known to spark home fires in the holiday season.

Most people reach a point of desperation before considering fraudulent escapes from their monetary straits. The holidays can be seen as a point of vulnerability. Purported victims can get more empathy for an arson and attempt to increase chances of getting away with it. Still, if ethics are  thrown out the window as a consideration in debating fraud, the risk-reward ratio should not be. Arson can kill families, destroy homes and leave survivors in jail.

As Thanksgiving approaches, we wish everyone a happy and fraud-free holiday season.

About the author: Jennifer Tchinnosian is communications specialist for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

Mitigating homeowners fraud in Florida

hurricaneImagine you own a home near the coast in Florida and pay some of the highest homeowners’ insurance rates in the nation. You hear from a neighbor that you can save 16 percent on your insurance by hiring a shady home inspector who will vouch that you’ve taken steps to better secure your house against a hurricane. Just send the inspection report to your insurer — and save a bundle on your insurance.

Would you do it?

According to a new report, that’s exactly what many homeowners are doing. In collusion with inspectors, and sometimes insurance agents, homeowners are duping a system set up to lessen home damage during future hurricanes and reduce deaths and injuries. Sometimes the homeowners themselves are duped by inspectors who falsify reports just to keep the inspection business and give the homeowner a break on insurance.

The report by the Florida Association of Insurance Agents says up to 80 percent of re-inspections done by insurers find inspectors’ reports don’t jibe with the work done on the house.

The result of all of this is that honest homeowners end up subsidizing rates for those who are cheating. Plus, when the next hurricane hits, there will be greater economic damage and even more injury and loss of life. The report hints that this rampant fraud is discouraging insurers from writing more homeowners coverage in the state.

Florida’s insurance regulators are mostly to blame for their “singular focus on cutting premiums at any cost” that has “mortgaged Florida’s future,”  according to the report. Recommended solutions include regulating inspectors, prohibiting kickbacks from inspectors to insurance agents and funding a state bureau to investigate this type of fraud.

Sounds like good advice. The Florida Association of Insurance Agents is commended for bringing this issue to light. Fixing the homeowner premium credit system is in the public interest and will boost the integrity of the state’s homeowners insurance market.

What price new siding?

I love seeing letters like the one below. Wherever hail seems to hit — mostly in the Midwest — these siding salesmen emerge and try to convince otherwise-honest homeowners to become quiet conspirators in costly fraud schemes. My favorite line in this letter: “I would love to have free siding, but the cost of committing insurance fraud is just too high.” If more homeowners understood that, these dishonest sales people would fade away.
Letter

Here’s hoping that insurance investigators follow up on this scam and that the salesman and the homeowners with the shiny new siding are called to account for their frauds.

Hail has no fury . . .

A fierce hailstorm blows through your neighborhood, pelting houses and potentially causing damage, but your home survives nicely. What to do as 30 to 40 contractors come knocking, insisting you need a new roof and should replace your siding? Many of your neighbors are taking advantage of the situation.

Read how one woman handled this potential ethical dilemma. It gives us hope.