Friday, November 30, 2012

Don't forget flood coverage

We can't stress this enough: many people assume that their homeowners policy includes flood coverage.

It doesn't. Standard homeowners-, renters- and business policies do not cover flood damage. If your property is in a flood prone area, you should strongly consider buying flood coverage.

How do you know if you're in a risky flood area? Type your address into the red box on the home page for the federally run National Flood Insurance Program. That's where most people buy their flood coverage. Many local insurance agents sell these policies.

And if you think a few inches of water wouldn't cause much damage, you might be surprised. The NFIP put together an interesting interactive simulator that details -- item by item -- the costs of different levels of flooding in a typical home. See the link above.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Job opening: Senior market analyst

We're looking for a senior market analyst in our Tumwater office. Here's the job description, including salary, responsibilities, and timeline. The deadline for applying  is just before 5 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 3.*

Also, we still have an opening for an Information Technology Specialist 4 (.NET developer).

*Update: The deadline has now been extended to Dec. 17, 2012.

One computer, one camera, fake invoices...and four different insurance claims

A Renton man has been sentenced to jail plus community service after submitting thousands of dollars in bogus claims for a $4,900 laptop, and a $3,200 camera.

Between December 2010 and September 2011, Michael Tran Lai, 32, filed multiple claims with four different insurance companies claiming the loss of the MacBook Pro laptop and Nikon camera. He claimed they were stolen from a car, or lost in luggage while travelling, or stolen from his hotel room. The invoices turned out to be fake.

He also filed multiple claims for the same accident damage to his Lexus.

Laid was sentenced Nov. 16 to 10 days in jail, 160 hours of community service, and $854 in court fees and costs. A restitution hearing is also pending.

Tips to avoid a turkey-fryer fire...because here's what that looks like

The turkey-fryer disaster video is a YouTube holiday staple, and it's not surprising. Oil burns really well. Turkeys are big.
The biggest mistake seems to be this: overfilling the pot and plunging a big turkey in while the flame is lit, causing a lot of oil to splash over the sides and, yup, ignite.

And sometimes, this happens on a deck or close to a house.

So if you must fry your turkey, here are some key tips:
  • Fry outside, away from the house.
  • Do not overfill the pot with oil.
  • Properly thaw the turkey.
  • Turn off the flame before adding the turkey.
  • Use the grappling-hook thing to lower the turkey in carefully (and not splash oil).
  • Be careful of oil splattering on your arms. Splashed boiling oil can cause horrible burns.
  • And -- if in doubt, review video No. 2 above -- keep a grease-approved fire extinguisher handy.
Bonus round: Actual turkey-fryer-mishap-victim William Shatner reviews these points in his cautionary video "Eat, Fry, Love."

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Flood warning update

Flood warnings remain in effect in the following counties: Grays Harbor, Lewis, Mason and Thurston, with some gale warnings and small craft advisories offshore.

Here's the complete list from the National Weather Service office in Seattle.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Flood, high wind and storm warnings in WA

The National Weather Service has issued a long list of flood-, wind- and storm warnings, watches and advisories today. Here's a roundup:

A flood warning has been issued for the Chehalis River at Centralia (in Lewis County) and the Chehalis River near Grand Mound (in Thurston County). Moderate flooding is expected, and the weather service is warning motorists not to try driving through flooded areas -- the most common cause of flood-related deaths in Washington.

In Lewis County, the flood warning will be in effect from Tuesday morning to Wednesday evening, with the river expected to hit flood stage around 9 a.m. Tuesday and crest 4 feet over flood stage around 4 p.m. Tuesday.

What's that mean? At four feet over flood stage, the weather service says, "The Chehalis River in Lewis County will flood some residential and commercial areas with water encroaching upon the first floor of some homes and businesses. Swift flood waters will cover some roads.

At Grand Mound, the river's expected to hit flood stage around 7 a.m. Tuesday and crest about 2 1/2 feet over flood stage around 4 a.m. Wednesday. Flooding of several roads in Independence Valley is expected, including SR 12 and James-, Independence-, Moon- and Anderson roads. Flood waters are expected to cut off access to and from Chehalis Reservation and inundate nearby farmland.

Minor to moderate flooding is also predicted the the Chehalis River near Doty (Lewis County), the Newaukum near Chehalis (Lewis), the Satsop River near Satsop (Grays Harbor County) and the Skokomish River near Potlatch (Mason). There's a flood advisory -- meaning minor flooding is possible -- for a dozen western Washington counties, as well as western Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties.

A high wind warning is in effect for Seattle and the central coast areas, with the strongest winds occurring as we post this, with the warning lasting until 3 p.m. South winds of 25-35 miles an hour have been reported, with gusts near 60 miles an hour.

A winter storm warning has been issued for the Cascade mountains above 4,500 feet, with periods of heavy snow expected to persist through evening. An additional 1-2 feet of snow is likely, especially over the North Cascades, the weather service says.

Similarly, a winter weather advisory is in effect for the Olympic mountains above 5,000 feet, with 6-11 inches of snow expected, but tapering off late today.

Fraud charges for man who hit car, then bought insurance

A Blaine man who rear-ended another driver, rushed to buy insurance, then claimed that the crash happened afterward has been charged with insurance fraud.

Mark Traxler, 51, let his auto insurance lapse in January because he didn't pay the premium.

Two weeks after his coverage ended, he hit a car in Bellingham, causing more than $5,000 in damage.

He immediately went to his insurance agent and paid for new coverage. By nightfall, the other driver had made a claim against his policy.

The problem: Traxler said that the accident happened after he'd bought the coverage, when a 9-1-1 call placed by the other driver indicated that it happened before.

Traxler has been charged in Whatcom County Superior Court with insurance fraud.

Friday, November 16, 2012

The search for Big Daddy: barbecue case leads to insurance fraud charges

In the summer of 2011, a Renton man named Cassk Thomas, Jr. filed a claim with his insurer, saying that someone had stolen his his 26-foot, 8,500-pound, two-tank, three-grill barbecue smoker, dubbed "Big Daddy."

The barbecue had been stored behind a locked fence, he told police. Two screws on a hinge had been removed. The smoker, as well as the double-tandem-axle trailer it was mounted on, was gone. Thomas provided his insurance adjuster with an invoice from a Spokane company, totalling $32,343, for the trailer and smoker.

Thomas' insurer, American Family Insurance, paid Thomas $30,474 for the lost barbecue, as well as $24,668 for lost income while he sought a replacement barbecue.

Upon investigation, it turned out that the trailer was actually purchased from a company in Texas for less than a third of what Thomas claimed. A former business partner said it cost $9,470, and she provided paperwork showing that.

The company Thomas had named as the manufacturer in Spokane apparently does not exist. It's not listed with the state departments of licensing or revenue, not on the Internet, the business address is a residence and, in repeated attempts, no one answered the phone there. A company official named by Thomas turned out to be an old roomate of his.

Thomas has been charged in King County Superior Court with 1st degree theft and insurance fraud, both of which are felonies.

Friday, November 9, 2012

A hard lesson for victims with flooded houses: standard homeowners policies don't cover flooding

The New York Times has a nuts-and-bolts story about insurance concerns in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and all of the lessons apply here in Washington.

The biggest one -- and something that we repeat often -- is that a standard homeowners policy does not cover flooding. For that coverage, people typically buy a policy from the federally-run National Flood Insurance Program.

The problem is that unless required to by their lender, many homeowners simply don't get flood coverage. (And even those whose mortgage requires it often later let it lapse.)

The article covers things like who pays for tree removal, will you be reimbursed for living costs if your home is uninhabitable, and will an insurer cover the cost of ruined food when the power fails.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

25 free apps

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has compiled a list of free health-related applications, created by the feds, regarding health. They include apps for the iPhone, iPad, Android and iPod Touch.

The apps include:

Find a Health Center: Created by the Health Resources and Services Administration, this map-linked app helps you find the nearest federally funded health center, which will care for you even if you have no health insurance. Based on your income, you pay what you can afford.

The popular BMI calculator, which helps determine your body mass index.

Brrd Brawl: A mobile game developed to give jittery quitting smokers something to do with their hands.

52 Weeks of Women's Health: Info on 52 health topics, ranging from eye health to contraception. Also helps track medications, allergies, etc.

Other apps include help triaging injuries in the field, treating radiation injuries, quitting smoking, tracking the flu in your area, tracking a pregnancy and reuniting after a disaster.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Job opening: .NET developer

We're recruiting to fill a position for an information technology specialist 4 (.NET developer) in our operations division in Tumwater, Wash.

The successful applicant's duties will include software development of mission-critical agency systems, systems analysis, as well as software unit and quality assurance testing.

For more specifics, duties, salary, timeline, etc., please see the full job listing.

Three companies fined $605,000

Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler is fining three companies a total of $605,000 for violating Washington insurance laws.

“Our insurance laws protect consumers and maintain a level playing field in the insurance market,” said Kreidler. “Break the law and you’ll face the consequences.”

The fines were as follows:

PacifiCare of Washington (now known as UnitedHealthcare of Washington, Inc.) has agreed to pay a $400,000 fine for what state financial examiners concluded were improper royalties paid to an affiliated company. The company contended that the payments were administrative fees, but acknowledged that it had failed to annually reconcile the payments with actual costs to show that the company wasn’t overpaying.

In addition to the fine, the company has recovered the $72.9 million it paid between 1999 and late 2006.

STA Travel Inc., based in Texas, agreed to pay $115,000 for allowing unlicensed staffers to sell insurance policies in Washington. The company is a travel agency specializing in international college student travel. It sells travel insurance as part of its travel services.

Although the company’s office manager was a licensed insurance agent, under Washington law, all staff selling travel policies needed to be licensed. Policies were sold by unlicensed staffers from 2005 to 2011.

Lenovo (United States) Inc., incorporated in Delaware, has agreed to pay $90,000 for improperly selling 1,327 service contracts in Washington. The company failed to register as a service contract provider, as required by state law. The service contracts were sold from mid-2008 through mid-2012.

Fines collected by the insurance commissioner's office do not go to the agency. The money is deposited in the state's general fund to pay for other state services.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

License revocation for insurance agent who allegedly faked own death

Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has issued an order to revoke the license of an Enumclaw insurance agent who allegedly faked his own death as part of a $2 million scam.

Aaron Travis Beaird, manager of Team Financial Services LLC, "knowingly devised a scheme and artifice to defraud consumers and to obtain money and property by means of false and fraudulent pretenses," according to the order.

Beaird would recomment to his clients that they liquidate one investment and transfer the money into another investment or insurance policy, making the checks out to his business.

The problem: Beaird didn't actually invest the money or buy a policy. Instead, according to the license revocation order, he'd take the money for "his own use and benefit." To cover things up, he would provide his clients with fake account statements.

Beaird was arrested in early July on federal charges of wire fraud and mail fraud. Investigators said he left a fake suicide note in his car, which was found parked near a bridge on June 23rd.

He pleaded guilty in federal district court Aug. 28th. He admitted to defrauding at least 11 people out of more than $1 million. He is currently incarcerated, awaiting sentencing,  at the SeaTac Federal Detention Center.

Beaird has the right to demand a hearing to contest the order.

Update: (Nov. 20) The revocation has taken effect.