Category Archives: Insurance Fraud

Fraud, Litigation Push
Florida Insurance Market to Brink of Collapse

With its abundance of unneeded new roofs on homes – and flashy lawyer billboards at every turn claiming massive settlements on claims – Florida’s insurance market is on the verge of failure. This man-made catastrophe is causing financial strain on consumers, as the annual cost of an average Florida homeowners insurance policy will skyrocket to $4,231 in 2022, nearly three times the U.S. annual average of $1,544.

“Floridians pay the highest homeowners insurance premiums in the nation for reasons having little to do with their exposure to hurricanes,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan.  “Floridians are seeing homeowners insurance become costlier and scarcer because for years the state has been the home of too much litigation and too many fraudulent roof-replacement schemes. These two factors contributed enormously to the net underwriting losses Florida’s homeowners’ insurers cumulatively incurred between 2016 and 2021.” 

Two major hurricanes made landfall in the state since 2016: 2017’s Irma and 2018’s Michael.

No direct hits occurred in Florida over the past three hurricane seasons. 

Florida, however, is the site of 79 percent of all homeowners insurance lawsuits over claims filed nationwide, even though Florida’s insurers receive only 9 percent of all U.S. homeowners insurance claims, according to the Florida governor’s office. To illustrate how lawsuits have weighed on insurer operating costs, JD Supra, citing the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR), reported $51 billion was paid out by Florida insurers over a 10-year period, and 71 percent of the $51 billion went to attorneys’ fees and public adjusters. The 2020 and 2021 cumulative net underwriting losses for Florida homeowners’ insurers totaled more than $1 billion each year.

“The state’s homeowners’ insurers have been forced to respond to these unfortunate market trends this year by restricting new business, non-renewing existing policies, and even canceling policies mid-term,” Kevelighan said. “What’s more, four homeowners insurance companies have been declared insolvent since February — all while more Americans are moving to Florida than any other state.”

Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state-backed property insurer of last resort in Florida, has seen its policy count rise to nearly 900,000 this month statewide.  Its policy count figure stood at about 420,000 in October 2019.  Citizens provides insurance coverage to homeowners unable to find a private-sector insurer willing to sell them a homeowners insurance policy.

Placing further pressure on the affordability and availability of homeowners’ insurance in the state, third-party rating bureaus have downgraded the financial ratings of some insurers operating in Florida.

The typical Florida homeowners’ insurance policyholder paid $2,505 for coverage in 2020, Triple-I found, and that figure rose to $3,181 in 2021.  Triple-I’s analysis was based on data and analyses from Florida’s OIR, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), and Triple-I’s estimates of what insurers are paying today for home replacement costs.

During a special legislative session in May 2022, Florida lawmakers passed Senate Bill 2B, which Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law. The measure is aimed at easing homeowners’ premium increases and reducing excessive litigation.

To help Floridians and others residing in natural disaster-prone states better manage risk and become more resilient, Triple-I launched a few years ago its Resilience Accelerator initiative, Kevelighan said.

The Resilience Accelerator’s goal is to demonstrate the power of insurance as a force for resilience by telling the story of how insurance coverage helps governments, businesses and individuals recover faster and more completely after natural disasters. “The insurance industry’s focus on resilience is starting to pay dividends as more Americans recognize the very real risks their residences face from floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters,” Kevelighan added.

The Battle Against Deepfake Threats

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer, Triple-I

Some good news on the deepfake front: Computer scientists at the University of California have been able to detect manipulated facial expressions in deepfake videos with higher accuracy than current state-of-the-art methods.

Deepfakes are intricate forgeries of an image, video, or audio recording. They’ve existed for several years, and versions exist in social media apps, like Snapchat, which has face-changing filters. However, cybercriminals have begun to use them to impersonate celebrities and executives that create the potential for more damage from fraudulent claims and other forms of manipulation.

Deepfakes also have the dangerous potential to be used to in phishing attempts to manipulate employees to allow access to sensitive documents or passwords. As we previously reported, deepfakes present a real challenge for businesses, including insurers.

Are we prepared?

A recent study by Attestiv, which uses artificial intelligence and blockchain technology to detect and prevent fraud, surveyed U.S.-based business professionals concerning the risks to their businesses connected to synthetic or manipulated digital media. More than 80 percent of respondents recognized that deepfakes presented a threat to their organization, with the top three concerns being reputational threats, IT threats, and fraud threats.

Another study, conducted by a CyberCube, a cybersecurity and technology which specializes in insurance, found that the melding of domestic and business IT systems created by the pandemic, combined with the increasing use of online platforms, is making social engineering easier for criminals.

“As the availability of personal information increases online, criminals are investing in technology to exploit this trend,” said Darren Thomson, CyberCube’s head of cyber security strategy. “New and emerging social engineering techniques like deepfake video and audio will fundamentally change the cyber threat landscape and are becoming both technically feasible and economically viable for criminal organizations of all sizes.”

What insurers are doing

Deepfakes could facilitate the filing fraudulent claims, creation of counterfeit inspection reports, and possibly faking assets or the condition of assets that are not real. For example, a deepfake could conjure images of damage from a nearby hurricane or tornado or create a non-existent luxury watch that was insured and then lost. For an industry that already suffers from $80 billion in fraudulent claims, the threat looms large.

Insurers could use automated deepfake protection as a potential solution to protect against this novel mechanism for fraud. Yet, questions remain about how it can be applied into existing procedures for filing claims. Self-service driven insurance is particularly vulnerable to manipulated or fake media. Insurers also need to deliberate the possibility of deep fake technology to create large losses if these technologies were used to destabilize political systems or financial markets.

AI and rules-based models to identify deepfakes in all digital media remains a potential solution, as does digital authentication of photos or videos at the time of capture to “tamper-proof” the media at the point of capture, preventing the insured from uploading their own photos. Using a blockchain or unalterable ledger also might help.

As Michael Lewis, CEO at Claim Technology, states, “Running anti-virus on incoming attachments is non-negotiable. Shouldn’t the same apply to running counter-fraud checks on every image and document?”

The research results at UC Riverside may offer the beginnings of a solution, but as one Amit Roy-Chowdhury, one of the co-authors put it: “What makes the deepfake research area more challenging is the competition between the creation and detection and prevention of deepfakes which will become increasingly fierce in the future. With more advances in generative models, deepfakes will be easier to synthesize and harder to distinguish from real.”

Study: Insurers Suspect Rise in Fraudulent Claims Since Start of Pandemic

By Max Dorfman, Research Writer

Insurance professionals’ suspicions about fraudulent claims have increased during the pandemic as fraudsters have become more creative, according to a recent survey.

The survey by FRISS, a provider of fraud and risk detection solutions for property/casualty insurers, found that its 420 respondents in 2022 believe 20 percent of claims filed might contain fraud. That’s up from 18 percent in 2020.

“Innovation and digitization are disrupting the insurance industry in good ways, setting a new norm that’s enabling the industry to be even more responsive to customers’ needs,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan in an introduction to the report. “Unfortunately, the acceleration of digital processes that began well before the pandemic also provides opportunities for fraud.”

In 2022, the top challenge reported by respondents was “Keeping up with fraudsters’ modus operandi” – a change from both the 2020 and 2018 surveys, in which “Internal data quality” was deemed the biggest challenge.

Insurance fraud costs U.S. consumers at least $80 billion every year, according to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. The FBI says the cost of non-health insurance fraud hovers at about $40 billion a year.  As a result, the average U.S. family incurs between $400 and $700 per year in losses due to increased premiums.

Respondents to the survey say fraud detection software has proven to be generally effective. This includes improving loss ratio (59 percent), staying ahead of developing fraud schemes (53 percent), and increasing investigator efficiency (52 percent).

Deepfake: A Real Hazard

By Maria Sassian, Triple-I consultant

Videos and voice recordings manipulated with previously unheard-of sophistication – known as “deepfakes“ – have proliferated and pose a growing threat to individuals, businesses, and national security, as Triple-I warned back in 2018.

Deepfake creators use machine-learning technology to manipulate existing images or recordings to make people appear to do and say things they never did. Deepfakes have the potential to disrupt elections and threaten foreign relations. Already, a suspected deepfake may have influenced an attempted coup in Gabon and a failed effort to discredit Malaysia’s economic affairs minister, according to Brookings Institution

Most deepfakes today are used to degrade, harass, and intimidate women. A recent study determined that up to 95 percent of the thousands of deepfakes on the internet were pornographic and up to 90 percent of those involved nonconsensual use of women’s images.

Businesses also can be harmed by deepfakes. In 2019, an executive at a U.K. energy company was tricked into transferring $243,000 to a secret account by what sounded like his boss’s voice on the phone but was later suspected to be thieves armed with deepfake software.

“The software was able to imitate the voice, and not only the voice: the tonality, the punctuation, the German accent,” said a spokesperson for Euler Hermes SA, the unnamed energy company’s insurer. Security firm Symantec said it is aware of several similar cases of CEO voice spoofing, which cost the victims millions of dollars.

A plausible – but still hypothetical – scenario involves manipulating video of executives to embarrass them or misrepresent market-moving news.

Insurance coverage still a question

Cyber insurance or crime insurance might provide some coverage for damage due to deepfakes, but it depends on whether and how those policies are triggered, according to Insurance Business.  While cyber insurance policies might include coverage for financial loss from reputational harm due to a breach, most policies require network penetration or a cyberattack before it will pay a claim. Such a breach isn’t typically present in a deepfake.

The theft of funds by using deepfakes to impersonate a company executive (what happened to the U.K. energy company) would likely be covered by a crime insurance policy.

Little legal recourse

Victims of deepfakes currently have little legal recourse. Kevin Carroll, security expert and Partner in Wiggin and Dana, a Washington D.C. law firm, said in an email: “The key to quickly proving that an image or especially an audio or video clip is a deepfake is having access to supercomputer time. So, you could try to legally prohibit deepfakes, but it would be very hard for an ordinary private litigant (as opposed to the U.S. government) to promptly pursue a successful court action against the maker of a deepfake, unless they could afford to rent that kind of computer horsepower and obtain expert witness testimony.”

An exception might be wealthy celebrities, Carroll said, but they could use existing defamation and intellectual property laws to combat, for example, deepfake pornography that uses their images commercially without the subject’s authorization.

A law banning deepfakes outright would run into First Amendment issues, Carroll said, because not all of them are created for nefarious purposes. Political parodies created by using deepfakes, for example, are First Amendment-protected speech.

It will be hard for private companies to protect themselves from the most sophisticated deepfakes, Carroll said, because “the really good ones will likely be generated by adversary state actors, who are difficult (although not impossible) to sue and recover from.”

Existing defamation and intellectual property laws are probably the best remedies, Carroll said.

Potential for insurance fraud

Insurers need to become better prepared to prevent and mitigate fraud that deepfakes are capable of aiding, as the industry relies heavily on customers submitting photos and video in self-service claims. Only 39 percent of insurers said they are either taking or planning steps to mitigate the risk of deepfakes, according to a survey by Attestiv.

Business owners and risk managers are advised to read and understand their policies and meet with their insurer, agent or broker to review the terms of their coverage.

Unethical Contractors Emerge After Disasters; Know How to Avoid Them

Natural disasters create opportunities for unethical contractors, and consumers need to be on the alert.

Post-disaster repair scams typically start when a contractor makes an unsolicited visit to a homeowner and pressures the homeowner to pay the contractor their insurance claim money – then disappear without doing the work.

Triple-I is teaming up with the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) during the NICB’s Contractor Fraud Awareness Week (July 12-16) to educate the public about such frauds and how to avoid them.

Before hiring any contractor, consumers affected by a natural disaster should call their insurer. There’s no need to rush into an agreement. Homeowners should inspect all work and make sure they are satisfied before paying. Most contractors will require a reasonable down payment, but no payments should be made until a written contract is in place.

The NICB offers these tips to homeowners before hiring a contractor:

  • Be wary of anyone knocking on your door offering unsolicited repairs to your home. 
  • Be suspicious of any contractor who rushes you or says the government endorses them.
  • Shop around for a contractor by getting recommendations from people you trust.
  • Get three written estimates for the work and compare bids.
  • Check a contractor’s credentials with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Always ask for a written contract that clearly states everything the contractor will do.
  • Never sign a contract with blank spaces because it could be altered afterward.
  • Never pay for work up front and avoid paying with cash; use either a check or credit card.

The NICB Post-Disaster Contractor Search Checklist explains the contractor hiring process step by step.  Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422) or submitting a form to the NICB.

“Acting as communities’ financial first responders, insurers rebuild damaged homes, cars, and lives after a natural disaster,” said Triple-I CEO Sean Kevelighan.  “The Insurance Information Institute is proud to join forces with the NICB to educate consumers and communities about how to best prepare and recover economically.”

“Victims of disasters are under tremendous stress as they are often pulled from their homes, fight heavy traffic attempting to get to safety, all while leaving their home and belongings behind,” said NICB President and CEO David Glawe. “When they go home, they are exhausted and strained, a time when they are most susceptible to these fraudulent schemes.”

RELATED LINKS:

Article: Insurance Fraud

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CORONAVIRUS WRAP-UP: PROPERTY AND CASUALTY (4/14/2020)

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Workers Compensation
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NICB: Watercraft theft sank in 2018

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The official start of summer is just a few weeks away, and for many that means leisure time spent on the water. Boating is a very popular pastime with an estimated 141.6 million Americans going boating in 2016.  Sales of recreational watercraft (powerboats, personal watercraft and sailboats) reached a high of $39 billion in 2017, up 6.5 percent from 2016.

Like cars, boats are often stolen. But the boat owners among us will be happy to know that watercraft theft was down by 8 percent in 2018 over the prior year. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s (NICB) 2018 watercraft theft report, a total of 4,499 watercraft were reported stolen in the U.S. between January 1 and December 31, 2018.

Florida was the top state for watercraft theft, followed by California, Texas, Louisiana and North Carolina. According to the NICB report, personal watercraft were the most likely type of watercraft to be stolen followed by runabouts, utility boats, cruisers and sailboats,.

You can do a lot to help prevent someone stealing your boat. The NICB recommends the following tips to protect watercraft from theft:

  • When you “dock it, lock it” and secure it to the dock with a steel cable
  • Remove expensive equipment when not in use
  • Chain and lock detachable motors to the boat
  • Do not leave title or registration papers in the craft
  • Disable the craft by shutting fuel lines or removing batteries
  • Use a trailer hitch lock after parking a boat on its trailer
  • Install a kill switch in the ignition system
  • Ensure your marine insurance policy includes your equipment, boat and trailer
  • Take photos of the boat and mark it with a Hull Identification Number (HIN)

 

 

Michigan arson hotline gets a second life

If it weren’t for the intervention of a determined National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) agent and the staff of the Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association (MBPIA), a valuable Michigan arson prevention program would have bitten the dust.

The Michigan Arson Hotline and Rewards Program was run by the Michigan Arson Prevention Committee (MAPC), an agency that provided many services to the state’s fire/police departments, insurance carriers, and the public. But the agency was defunded in 2017 and the hotline ceased to exist. That was unfortunate because the hotline was so successful that from 2014 through 2018, the number of arson-related suspicious claims referred to NICB from Michigan decreased by nearly 50 percent.

During its 30 years of operation the hotline paid out nearly $1 million to confidential informants whose information lead to the arrest and conviction of numerous arsonists, some of whom were involved in very high-profile arson fires within the state.

So, when the hotline was shut down, NICB Supervisory Special Agent Joseph Hanley, working with the Michigan Basic Property Insurance Association (MBPIA), decided to act to revive it. In January, 2018, Hanley and representatives of the MBPIA approached the Detroit Crime Commission (DCC) with a proposal for the DCC to assume the administrative responsibilities of the arson hotline and rewards program. Acknowledging the mutual support and success of the arson hotline, the DCC enthusiastically agreed to the proposal.

Arson is the act of deliberately setting fire to a building, car or other property for fraudulent or malicious purposes and is a crime in all states. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were 22,500 fires intentionally set in structures in 2017, an increase of 13 percent from 2016. The 2017 structure arson cases resulted in 280 civilian deaths and $582 million in property loss. Additionally, there were an estimated 8,500 intentionally set vehicle fires in 2017, these fires resulted in $75 million in property loss, an increase of 88 percent from 2016.

The I.I.I. has facts about arson here (members only content).

Study: One third of Americans lie on auto insurance applications

Most people agree that honesty is the best policy, but when it comes to filling out insurance applications, many consumers are willing to fudge the truth to get a better rate. According to a study from finder.com, an estimated 35 million Americans have lied on an insurance application.

Almost one in three (29 percent) of the people who have lied on an insurance application have done so for car insurance. That amounts to 10.2 million Americans who were willing to lie to get the best coverage for the road.

Following car insurance, false information is most likely to appear on applications for health insurance (22 percent), life insurance (21 percent), income protection insurance (8 percent), travel insurance (7 percent), home and contents insurance (7 percent) and pet insurance (5 percent).

More men lie than women, but women are more likely than men to lie on an application in five of seven categories: health insurance, income protection insurance, travel insurance, home and contents insurance and pet insurance. Men lead women when it comes to lying on car insurance and life insurance applications.

“Taking creative liberties on your insurance application may seem like an innocent white lie, but it’s actually considered fraud, and the repercussions can be serious. If found out you may be charged a higher premium, denied a policy or even charged with fraud, requiring you to pay a fine or even do jail time,” said Finder’s consumer advocate Rachel Dix- Kessler.

There are numerous ways to save money on car insurance. The Insurance Information Institute has these tips for shopping around for the best policy.

For more information on insurance fraud click here.