Friday, June 24, 2011

Your homeowners policy probably does NOT cover flooding

Many residents of Minot, North Dakota believed they were safe from flooding due to a revised flood map and either canceled their flood insurance or failed to purchase a policy. Today, only one in ten residents have flood insurance.

A New York Times article today chronicles how the number of people in Minot with flood insurance was cut in half in just a year.

Most people know this, but your standard homeowners policy doesn't cover flooding. If you want coverage, you must buy a policy from the National Flood Insurance Program.

Get a flood map or learn more about flood insurance.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Job opening: Chief market conduct examiner

Due to a retirement, we have a job opening for a chief market conduct examiner in our Seattle office.

The person will supervise the market conduct team of examiners, who work directly with insurance companies to determine compliance with consumer protection laws and regulations.

For more details, salary info, and more about the agency, travel requirements, etc., please see the full job listing.

If you want to stay up to date on any future openings at the Insurance Commissioner's Office, here's our job opportunities page.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Insurance companies and agents fined more than $750,000 this year in WA

Washington State Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has fined insurance companies, agents and brokers more than $750,000 this year. Violations included charging unapproved rates and submitting false documents.
“These fines are the `teeth’ that help us protect insurance consumers,” said Kreidler. “It’s our job to see that the insurance industry’s playing by the rules.”

From January through mid-June, the insurance commissioner’s office has imposed $787,815 in fines. The largest, by far, was a $534,000 fine issued in January. More recent fines are listed below.

The money does not go to the agency. It is deposited in the state’s general fund to pay for other state services.

Any Washingtonian with a complaint against an insurer, agent or broker can contact the office at 1-800-562-6900 or file a complaint online at

For a list of companies fined recently, read the press release here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pierce County man charged in insurance fraud case

A Tacoma man faces multiple charges after allegedly filing forged documents in an auto theft claim.

Cash B. Knott, 45, has been charged in Pierce County Superior Court with three counts of forgery, one count of insurance fraud, and one count of attempted 2nd degree theft.

On Nov. 6th, less than a month after getting coverage from Progressive Direct Insurance Co. for his 1992 Ford Ranger pickup, Knott filed a $5,674 insurance claim with Progressive. He said someone had scratched the paint, stolen his chrome wheels and tires, and stolen his navigation and entertainment system, 1,000 watt amplifier and other electronic components.

He provided Progressive with a Sept. 2 stereo shop invoice for $4,547.84 worth of stereo equipment, a copy of his check, and a bank statement showing the withdrawal from his checking account.

The problem: When contacted by an insurance adjuster, the stereo shop said it had no record of such a purchase. All they could find was that Knott had bought an amplifier -- for $109 -- on Sept. 2.

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler's Special Investigations Unit obtained a search warrant for Knott's bank records. The bank found no checks written to the stereo shop, and none whatsoever for $4,547.84.

The upshot: The investigators believe that Knott altered the invoice, forged a check, and created a phony bank statement.

He's scheduled for arraignment on June 27th.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Job openings: Analyst and .NET developer

We have two job openings:

Functional Program Analyst 3 - The application period ends June 22.

.NET Application Developer - Open until filled. This is a limited-duration project, funded by a federal health care reform grant.

Note: The link to this post has been fixed. Sorry about that.

New free iPhone app guides you through steps after a car accident

AAA has released a new iPhone app that will walk you through the steps to take after an auto accident, including a list of information to gather for police and your insurers, photos to take, and a diagram of vehicle damage.

You don't have to be a AAA member. The app is free, and AAA says it's working on a version for other smartphones.

No smartphone? Here's a comprehensive auto accident checklist, put together by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, that you should print out and keep in your car.

Here are the steps we recommend:
  • Stay safe, but try to warn oncoming traffic of the danger at the scene. Turn on your hazard lights.
  • If someone's hurt, give reasonable aid and call 911 immediately. Don't move them unless absolutely necessary.
  • Notify the police.
  • Give and get info for the accident report, including insurance information, license plates, names and contact information of those involved, including police and witnesses. Diagram the scene.
  • If you can do it safely, take photos with a camera or phone.
  • Call your agent or insurance company.
  • Many experts advise not admitting fault or assigning blame, and only discussing the details of the accident with police or your insurer.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Things that can affect your auto insurance rates

A new survey says that more than half of Americans have recently made an economic-driven change that may affect how much they pay for car insurance.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners survey found that:
  • nearly 40 percent of respondents were driving less or taking public transportation more
  • nearly 20 percent traded in a vehicle for a lower-priced model or got rid of a second vehicle entirely
  • and almost 20 percent of drivers reduced or canceled their car insurance to save money -- something we do not recommend. You'll almost certainly pay more to get coverage later, and if you continue to drive without coverage, you expose yourself to potentially devastating financial liability.
(Bonus round: Here's a long list of NAIC tips for lowering your auto insurance premiums.)

Here are some of the changes that can affect how much you pay for insurance:
  • You moved: A change in zip code may affect your premium, depending on crime statistics in the area.
  • You changed cars: A lower-value car, not surprisingly, is usually cheaper to insure. If you're car's paid off and not worth much, you might consider saving money by raising your deductible or canceling your collision coverage. But keep your liability coverage.
  • A new job, or no job: These can affect whether you commute, and how far.
  • Driving less: Almost 40 percent of consumers said they're driving less. Many are walking or taking public transportation more often. If this sounds like you, you should talk to your insurer and see if you qualify for a low-mileage discount.
  • Bad credit score: The weak economy, layoffs and the collapse of the housing market have left many people with battered credit. Most states, including Washington, allow insurers to use your credit information to decide how much to charge you. (Here in Washington, we have successfully fought to limit this practice, but have not yet been able to convince lawmakers to ban it entirely.)
Also, if you're struggling to find coverage here in Washington, we maintain an online list of companies offering policies for hard-to-insure drivers.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Insurance investigators shot and killed in Louisiana

Our hearts go out to our colleagues in Louisiana, where yesterday two Louisiana Department of Insurance fraud investigators were shot and killed while trying to gather information from an insurance agent.

Here's the statement from Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.

According to the New York Times, the agent was found dead by SWAT team members after barricading himself in his business, where the shootings happened.

Monday, June 6, 2011

One accident, two claims: Seattle man charged with insurance fraud

A Seattle man has been charged with insurance fraud and second-degree theft for allegedly filing multiple auto insurance claims for a single accident.

Thanh Thai "Derrick" Dang, 31, was charged Wednesday in King County Superior Court. Both charges are class C felonies, carrying a maximum penalty of 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

An investigation by the state insurance commmissioner's Special Investigations Unit found that in May 2010, Dang contacted insurer Ameriprise to say that his Toyota RAV4 had been hit by a hit-and-run driver while parked outside a home in Seattle. Ameriprise issued a check for $3,887.

Eight days after the accident, Dang obtained coverage over the internet from Allstate. Almost immediately, he filed a claim with Allstate for damage to the RAV4, saying that the car had been rear-ended while he was driving on Interstate 5. He also claimed that he'd been injured. Allstate issued a check for $3,502 for repairs to the vehicle.

A subsequent investigation by Allstate's anti-fraud unit showed that the RAV4 damage was identical in both claims.

A hearing in Dang's case is scheduled for June 13th.

Update (9/20/2011): King County Superior Court Judge Susan Craighead ordered Dang to pay restitution to both Allstate and Ameriprise, plus $600 to the court. He was also sentenced to 200 hours of community service.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Chiropractor pleads guilty to making false statements under oath

A chiropractor with several clinics in Pierce and King counties has pleaded guilty to making false statements under oath during insurance-related depositions.

Alnoor Haider Bhanji, 43, of Issaquah, pleaded guilty to three counts of false swearing in King County Superior Court on Tuesday.

In depositions in three different lawsuits (in 2007, 2008 and 2010) involving insurers, Bhanji lied under oath. The false statements included:

• claiming that he didn’t know who owned his Federal Way clinic building,

• claiming that his brother was not associated with the chiropractic business in any way,

• and repeatedly denying knowing an individual who had a long history of bringing patients to Dr. Bhanji.

Each count is a gross misdemeanor with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a fine of $5,000.

Sentencing is set for June 17.

How does a ticket affect my insurance rate?

A new study shows just how damaging speeding tickets or other moving violation citations can be to your insurance rates. did an analysis of more than 32,000 insurance policies sold last year, and concluded that a single violation on a driver's record drove up rates by an average of 18 percent. Drivers with two violations paid an average of 34 percent more, and those with three paid 53 percent more.

Some of the violations that affect your auto insurance rates are no surprise: a DUI, for example, or fleeing from police, or wrong-way driving. But an improper passing citation also counts, as does failure to use a proper child restraint.

What typically doesn't count? Parking tickets.

Your driving record, of course, isn't the only thing that auto insurers consider. Here are some of the other factors that affect the cost of your auto insurance.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Medicare phone scam reported

The state attorney general's office is warning about a phone scam that attempts to get people to reveal their banking information, supposedly as a way to get a special Medicare card.

From the post:
"Remember, government programs will never make unsolicited calls seeking financial or health information. Anyone who does so is a crook."
Click on the link above for more information about the scam -- as well as a similar one that the Nevada AG is warning about.

Filing a Holocaust-related life insurance claim

This morning's New York Times had a story about the ongoing struggle for Holocaust survivors to collect on life insurance policies.

The International Commission on Holocaust-Era Claims, which helped collect more than $1 million for Washington state claimants, stopped accepting claims in March of 2007. But you may still be able to file a claim. The following companies have agreed to accept post-deadline Holocaust-era claims directly from individuals:
  • Generali
  • Allianz
  • AXA
  • Winterthur
  • Zurich
  • as well as their affiliates and other German companies.
Also: After the closure of the international commission's claims period, Washington state's Holocaust Survivors Assistance Program has continued to help some claimants recover money from the Austrian General Settlement Fund.

For help or questions -- if you're a Washington state resident -- contact our office at 1-800-562-6900. (If you live in another state, here's a list of contact information for other state insurance departments.)

Our 2010 annual report

We've just posted our annual report for calendar year 2010.

It can tell you things like:
  • Washington premiums for earthquake insurance last year ($118 million). Claims were almost nonexistent.
  • Medical malpractice insurance premiums totaled ($157 million).
  • Who the top 40 companies are, for each line of insurance business.
  • Accident and health coverage is a $14 billion business in Washington.
  • Health insurers pay out an average of nearly 86 cents for every dollar in premiums they collect.
  • Mortgage guaranty insurance, due to the housing market turmoil, has seen a big surge in payouts over the past few years, and continues to lose money. Last year, these policies paid out nearly $1.76 for every dollar in premiums they collected.
And if you want to compare data year-to-year, we've posted all our annual reports online since 1998. (Here's an interesting one: Take a look at mortgage insurance claims in 2005, for example, compared to the last couple of years.)