Scam Alert: Watch out for Staged Auto Accidents

This is a guest post from Renaissance Alliance member Ross Insurance Agency based on a post that was previously featured on the Ross blog.
Car accidents are a dangerous and unpleasant fact of modern life. Even the best driver will probably be involved in a car accident at least once during their driving years; statistically, one out of sixteen Americans will be in an accident each year, with the odds somewhat higher for young drivers. Even when accidents don’t involve injuries, you don’t want your insurance rates to go any higher. The last thing that anyone wants is to be involved in a car accident, or so you would think.
Unfortunately, that just doesn’t hold true for criminals. The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud warns about staged car accidents – a common form of car insurance fraud. These faked accidents have been taken to a new level in Florida, where faked accidents often come complete with fake medical claims filed at fake clinics. Florida, a no fault state, seems to be particularly plagued with this kind of scam activity. As a result Florida drivers pay up to 65% more than drivers in other states for their car insurance.
We aren’t immune to staged accidents happening here in New England, either – last spring, the Attorney General’s office busted a Massachusetts auto fraud ring. A lawyer, a chiropractor and another person were convicted of working in cahoots to commit insurance fraud and larceny after staging several accidents. .
Avoiding Staged Auto Accidents

  • Know what to look for. The Coalition link above has an article that describes the four most common types of scams – get familiar with them
  • Keep alert. Most scams rely on you being distracted either right before the accident or at the point of the accident.
  • Call police if you are in an accident. It can be tempting to ignore minor fender benders, but better safe than sorry.
  • Don’t trust your memory. With mobile phones, it makes it easy to document the scene of an accident. In addition to exchanging information, take photos of the accident scene, any vehicle damage, and the passengers in the other car.
  • Report suspicious events. If you suspect fraud, call your state insurance fraud bureau (here’s a link to the Massachusetts Insurance Fraud Bureau) or report it to the National Insurance Crime Bureau if you suspect a scam. The toll-free number is 1-800-835-6422 (24 hours a day, seven days a week).

The Benefits of an Independent Insurance Agent

In this internet age of immediate access to wholesale prices and discount merchandise, many consumers may be tempted to buy insurance the same way they buy music: immediately downloaded from the source. While with some purchases it can make sense to cut out the middleman, so to speak, insurance is not the same as a new mattress or a DVD. Would you dispense with a lawyer at a real estate closing? What if you’d been unjustly arrested? Expert advice is important and your independent insurance agent can provide that, along with a layer of protection you can’t get in any other way. We’ve spoken about the value of local, independent insurance agents before, but it’s always worth rethinking.
Most people realize that insurance can be purchased in three separate ways:

  • Directly, from an agent of the insurance company
  • From an internet or telephone agent who may represent several different companies
  • Through an independent insurance agent in your community.

Purchasing directly from one insurance company means that you’re not getting any comparison to other policies that might serve you better. It’s not in the company’s best interest to steer you to another company, after all.
Internet and phone agents may represent several different companies, but they are not members of your community. Not only does this mean that they simply may not be aware of specific state and local conditions and laws, it also means that they are just not as accountable as someone you can visit at any time. If you’re purchasing insurance directly, you’re also directly responsible for the level of coverage you may or may not have. That can mean that you’re not covered when it counts, because no one can be an expert in every field.
A local independent insurance agent is an expert and is your representative. They are licensed professionals who know local conditions intimately. They can recommend the coverage that will keep you, your family and your property safe. It’s in their best interest to keep you happy and they can shop around several different companies to find the policies to fit you best. When your life changes, they can help you change your insurance policies to reflect your new circumstances. Your agent knows you and will recommend policies that suit your lifestyle. All too often, people shop for price and sometimes unknowingly sacrifice coverage, a point this writer for Insurance Agents magazine makes. How good is it to save a few dollars if you risk a loss that costs you thousands?
Your insurance agent can also help when you need to file a claim. They act as your agent and not for the company. That can offer a lot of peace of mind at a time when you may need it most.
Don’t have an agent? Here’s a list of New England independent insurance agencies.

Does my car insurance cover me when I rent a car?

This is a guest post from Renaissance Alliance member agency Encharter Insurance.
Memorial Day is around the corner and pretty soon the kids will be out of school. Where will your summer vacation plans take you and your family this year? If a rental car is part of your plan, let us help answer a common question people ask their insurance agents: Does my car insurance cover my rental car?
When renting a car, you are given the option of purchasing insurance from the rental company, but you may not need it. Your car insurance policy may cover your rental car, so before your trip, it’s a good idea to speak with your agent. Ask your agent if your policy covers a rental car, and if it doesn’t, inquire about the cost of adding that to your current coverage. Depending on the price of the insurance from the rental company and how often you travel, it may be a good addition to your auto insurance policy. If you don’t own a car, ask your insurance agent about a non-owner auto insurance policy that provides benefits in addition to rental car coverage. Lastly, talk with your credit card company and see what coverage it may provide if an accident were to occur while you’re driving a rental car.
If you’re ever in doubt about the coverage your insurance policy offers you, it’s always best to call your agent. Each policy is different, designed specifically for the needs of you and your family.

Cell Phones and Distracted Driving

Cell phones have become ingrained in our culture in an amazingly short time. As a nation, we’ve become accustomed to being available to make or take calls 24/7, no matter where we are. Although the convenience of a cell phone cannot be understated, it’s time to step back a little and be more careful with our phones. 99% of the time, there really isn’t any reason to use your phone while you’re driving. If the call is that important, pull over, stop and take it then.
Studies show that using a cell phone while driving is just about as dangerous as drinking and driving, as shown graphically in this video from 20/20. Yet states have been slow to ban their use outright, with only nine states currently banning the use of hand held phones while driving and 35 more banning texting while driving. That may be changing, as the National Transportation Safety Board has recently released a FAQ sheet on the dangers of distracted driving (PDF) and is calling for a national ban. The idea of a nationwide ban is gaining traction, due partly to a study recently released by California, where traffic deaths have declined by 22% in the two years since hand held cell phone use while driving was banned.
If the ban is passed in all fifty states, how will it affect car insurance rates? Since policies vary so much from state to state, it’s difficult to say. Currently, in New York, being ticketed for cell phone use results in three violation points on your driving record, and a fine up to $100, along with other mandatory fees and surcharges up to $85. The penalties are the same for texting or e-mail use while driving, except the maximum base fine goes up to $150.
Here’s a chart of current State Cell Phone Use & Texting While Driving Laws.

Buying a used car for the graduate? How-to guides to get the best deals

With graduations looming, many proud parents and grads are thinking about a used car purchase in the near future. Buying a used car is always tricky, but the growth of the internet has given purchasers a wide variety of new tools to make sure that everyone walks away happy. This article from Smart Money gives a variety of helpful tips and useful advice if you’re planning to buy from a used car dealer and this one from MSN Money should be required reading if you’re planning to buy from a private party via Craigslist. For the mechanically inclined, Popular Mechanics has a useful 10 point buyer checklist to keep in mind — and don’t forget to avoid common used car scams.
It’s always a good idea to check the price of a car you’re considering against the Kelley Blue Book value, easily done on their website. Remember that price can be different in different parts of the country, and experts advise doing a Craigslist check on similar cars in your area to get a feel for local prices even if you’re buying from a dealership. Edmunds is one of the best online sources for used car information (new cars, too) and they have a recent article on buying a used car for under $2500. One point the experts all agree with is spending an extra $35 or so to get a carfax report on any car you’re seriously considering.
Of course, you may not have your computer when you’re shopping. There are car-buying apps for that. Edmunds has a highly recommended app for iPads, iPhones and Droids as does Kelley Blue Book that can instantly give you the estimated value and reviews on any car — and with an app like Craigslist Finder, you’ll be notified whenever the car of your dreams comes up for sale.
Once you have the car, it will need insurance and the way you approach that may vary depending on whether your student is a high school or college grad. Laws vary in each state and insurance companies also differ in their rules, but for the most part, children can only be covered by their parents’ policy if the parents’ home is their primary address. Some insurers offer exceptions if students will be away at school, but others won’t insure a car if it is garaged in another state. You’ll also want to check with your agent – depending on the circumstances, there may be multi-vehicle discounts if the child is insured on your policy; the student may also qualify for a Good Student Discount or for safe driver training program that will enable a discount. There’s a lot to consider and a lot of variables – your independent insurance agent can help you make the right decision.