Meet the CSIs of Insurance Fraud

It may not be as dramatic a backdrop as Miami, New York, or Las Vegas, but insurance has more than its fair share of shadowy characters and intrigue. And just like the TV show, it also has investigators who are trained to solve crimes by examining the evidence. Though the people on this team might fly under the radar, they’re an essential part of the insurance industry. Of course we’re talking about the Special Investigations Unit (SIU).

SIU investigates questionable activity and refers suspected cases of insurance fraud to law enforcement agencies.

We chatted with Robert Cline, Director of SIU at Esurance, and here’s what he had to say about the work he and his team do.

Insurance fraud affects everyone

Ever wonder if you could help fight insurance fraud? Well, you can! Everyone who pays an insurance premium has a vested interest in fighting insurance fraud and can help.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) estimates that $80 billion a year is stolen from policyholders. This is done by both individuals and organized fraud rings that specifically target insurance companies and individual policyholders.

In one recent state survey, it’s estimated that $50 from every auto premium in that state was used to pay for medical fraud. Those are your hard-earned dollars being stolen by fraudsters.

Insurance fraud takes many forms but can be generally defined by 2 types: opportunistic fraud and organized fraud. Opportunistic fraud usually takes the form of a legitimate claim or incident that’s exaggerated or embellished beyond the actual facts of the loss. An example would be filing a claim for an injury that occurred prior to the accident.

Organized fraud, on the other hand, is an actual scheme usually associated with criminal organizations. These scammers look for opportunities to purchase bogus policies and then stage accidents or other intentional events to get the claim payout.

How to fight insurance fraud

Esurance, like most insurance companies, maintains a well-staffed Special Investigation Unit. The role of the SIU is to detect and investigate attempts to defraud Esurance. In turn, this protects customers from paying higher premiums due to fraudulent payouts.

Our SIU uses state-of-the-art analytics and investigative techniques to ferret out fraud and avoid paying bogus claims. We also work closely with law enforcement and the NICB to prosecute offenders whenever possible.

So how can you help?

First, be vigilant. If you see or hear of anyone attempting to commit insurance fraud, or believe you’ve been the victim of fraud, report it. The Esurance SIU receives valuable tips through our dedicated email address, fightfraud@esurance.com. You can contact us regardless of which insurance company is involved, and we’ll make sure the information gets to the right place for review. You can also report the matter to the NICB.

Second, learn more about insurance fraud so you know how to spot it. One excellent resource is the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Their website is packed with easy-to-understand articles about insurance fraud schemes and how to recognize them.

Look for our interview with the manager of SIU’s fire and theft unit tomorrow!  

About Robert Cline

With nearly 20 years of SIU experience under his belt, Robert has a keen eye for insurance fraud. Prior to lending his skills to the insurance industry, Robert served as a special agent with the Army Criminal Investigations Command. He also spent several years as a reserve deputy in the Orange County Sheriff’s Department in Florida. Though he’s based out of our Tampa office, he directs the special investigations unit for all Esurance offices.

Related links

Learn more about car insurance fraud and theft in our insights
Protect yourself against identity theft

Pin for a Chance to Win a Trip to SOBEWFF in Miami

If you’re a food lover, the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival (SOBEWFF) is your dream come true — celebrity chef sightings, delectable treats from some of the world’s best restaurants, and glamorous food-themed parties, all along swanky South Beach in Miami, Florida.

As a proud first-time sponsor of SOBEWFF 2014, we’re using the power of innovation to help attendees share and savor the Festival to the fullest. And we’re offering you the chance to enjoy it all in person.

You could be our guest at SOBEWFF

Pin your ultimate dinner celebration for your chance to win a trip for 2 to SOBEWFF, February 20-23, 2014. Prize includes:

  • $2,500 for travel expenses
  • 2 Big Top Passes to 4 unforgettable nighttime parties
  • 2 Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village weekend passes

How to enter the Esurance Digital Dinner Party Contest on Pinterest

In just 3 simple steps, you could be on your way to the ultimate food lover’s weekend.

Step 1. Complete the entry form here.

Step 2. Follow Esurance on Pinterest

Step 3. Create your board

Throw a virtual dinner party on Pinterest using all your best food-related pins: favorite dishes, most inspiring chefs, bucket-list restaurants, most covetable kitchenware, and most innovative food hacks. Boards will be judged on originality, creativity, and how well they tie into our theme.

Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. PT on January 29, 2014. The winner will be notified by email on or around January 31.

Good luck!

Stuff our legal team makes us say

Only one pin per entry required. Must be 21 or over. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. See entry form for official rules.

8 States to Increase the Number of Zero-Emission Vehicles

The notoriously smoggy skies of Los Angeles, New York City, and Boston can look forward to a (literally) brighter future. Leaders from 8 states across the country recently pledged to work together to bring 3.3 million zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to the road by 2025.

That’s more than 15 times as many ZEVs estimated to be in use countrywide in 2015. (Whoa.)  And of course, more battery-powered cars, plug-in hybrids, and other clean-burning vehicles on the road means less auto-related pollution.

But, with range anxiety mounting and the often hefty price tag on clean-burning vehicles, how do they plan on achieving such a sizable feat?

8 states reach an agreement

The 8 states involved in the pledge make up a whopping 23 percent of the U.S. auto market. California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont have each adopted their own rules requiring that a certain percentage of new vehicles sold must be ZEVs. California’s goal of 15.4 percent, for example, calls for 1.5 million ZEVs to be on the road by 2025. That’s quite the increase — currently, electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids make up only about 2 percent of the state’s auto sales.

In order to achieve this goal, California and the other 7 states have legislation and incentive programs in place to promote the use of ZEVs. In fact, the Golden State offers up to $2,500 in rebates for people who purchase clean-burning vehicles.

California already leads the country in the sale of ZEVs, but has further committed to dedicating $20 million annually to build charging stations and other infrastructure through 2024 (or until 100 hydrogen stations are built, whichever happens first).

The 8-state agreement, signed in October 2013, requires no financial commitment, but is meant to synchronize individual state efforts, streamlining the implementation of ZEV incentives and infrastructure. The states also agreed to share research findings and coordinate an education and outreach campaign that raises consumer awareness and promotes ZEVs.

Of course, there are always skeptics. Some believe this goal is unattainable because of a perceived lack of public interest and a real lack of public infrastructure. The 8 states are addressing the infrastructure issue and aiming to provide incentives and raise awareness for the everyday motorist — but is the average driver buying it?

The reservations about zero-emission vehicles

There are plenty of news stories citing range anxiety as one of the main reasons why consumers aren’t purchasing ZEVs. And it’s a legitimate concern — vehicles like the Nissan Leaf have a range of less than 90 miles.

Paired with a (usually) higher price tag and a lack of charging stations (especially in more remote locations), most people still opt for traditional gas-powered cars. Auto dealers agree that networks of charging stations and other infrastructure are key to converting drivers who fear getting stranded with a dead battery.

Numbers show zero-emission vehicles catching on

Nonetheless, the market for ZEVs is experiencing a sea change. In 2012, electric car sales in the U.S. nearly tripled over the previous year — from 17,000 in 2011 to about 52,000 in 2012. And industry numbers cite more than 40,000 plug-in vehicle sales in the first and second quarters of 2013.

There are currently 16 ZEV models from 8 manufacturers on the market — 2 hydrogen fuel cell cars, 5 plug-in hybrids, and 9 cars that run on batteries. But 2014 is proving to be a big year for clean-burning vehicles, with officials saying there will be a total of 26 models on the market. By 2015, it’s predicted that every auto manufacturer will sell a ZEV model.

Toyota is leading the way to promote clean-burning vehicles. In 2013, they announced that their 2014 Prius plug-in hybrid will get a $2,000-$4,500 price cut (depending on whether or not you choose the base model or the advanced). The company also revealed the concept for their first production fuel cell vehicle at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. It’s expected to launch in 2015 with a driving range and refueling time similar to that of a traditional gas-powered car.

Join the discussion

Would you consider making the switch from a traditional gas-powered car to a ZEV (if you haven’t already)? If so, what do you think the benefits are? And if not, what are your main objections to driving one?

Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

Related posts

Is the garbage-fueled car finally here?
BMW’s innovative solution to “range anxiety”
5 anxiety-reducing tips for electric vehicle drivers
Top 5 reasons to drive a hybrid
See how smaller cars are bringing bigger technology

7 Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

Last month, like 40 million other Target shoppers, my credit card info was compromised. Was I surprised? Eh, mildly, but unfortunately, that’s just the world we live in. So, rather than get angry at Target or develop a cash-only lifestyle, I’d rather do my best to mitigate the damage and protect myself from identity theft.

Working for an online company (one that takes privacy and security very seriously), I’ve picked up a few precautionary tips on how to safeguard my personal information. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Ask questions

It seems like everyone and their mother wants your phone number, email, and social security number these days. But why? The more people who have your deets, the more susceptible that info is to being sold, shared, or hacked. Only share your info if you trust the website or if you initiated the call.

Before you blindly hand out your digits, ask why they’re needed and determine for yourself whether it’s actually necessary. In many cases, it’s not.

Be vigilant about identity theft

There’s not much you could’ve done ahead of time to prevent what happened with Target. But that doesn’t mean you need to remain a victim.

Check your bank statements regularly and call your bank immediately if you notice erroneous charges. Most banks require that you report the incident within 60 days, so if you want your money back, it pays to be diligent.

In my case, even though I didn’t see illicit charges on my account, I decided to cancel my card anyway. Some may call this paranoid, but I prefer the word “cautious.” With news that these card numbers are being sold online, there’s a chance that charges could’ve shown up much later. And if some creep tries to use my info, I want them to be DENIED.

Set up a credit alert

If a company has a security breach, they’ll often provide a free credit alert service for up to a year. You can also be proactive and set up your own fraud alerts through any one of these major credit bureaus: Equifax, Transunion, or Experian. Though the service isn’t free, it can be worth the peace of mind knowing someone is keeping an eye out for you.

If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you can also contact one of these companies and they’ll alert the other 2 on your behalf.

Use tricky security questions

Sure, a strong password’s important. But hackers are also getting savvier about circumventing this obstacle. If someone gets your username and clicks “forgot my password,” a simple Google search may help them answer your security questions.

As an experiment, I searched, “What city was Jessica Guerin born in?” and there it was in an Esurance blog post that showed up on page one of the search results. Needless to say, I use slightly less obvious questions (and usernames) when setting up accounts.

A side note about passwords: don’t use the same one for every account. Imagine if a hacker got a hold of it — that’s instant access to everything!

Don’t overshare

We hear this tip a lot. But it’s for good reason. When you talk about yourself online, that information becomes vulnerable to hackers. Not only can they use it to steal your identity, but they can also use it to plan a robbery. If you blast your vacation plans all over social media, thieves know exactly when you’ll be out of the house. And that can make you a target.

Likewise, be selective about who can see your profiles. Set your privacy restrictions to “friends only” and be picky about who those friends are.

Keep your guard up

Hackers may be savvier, but that doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned their old tactics. Phishing emails, unsecure sites, malware — they’re still out there. That means your antivirus software, operating system, and browsers should be up to date at all times.

While it’s become increasingly common for companies to email their customers (Esurance included), they shouldn’t solicit personal information. So stay alert and call the company — using a trusted phone number, not the one in the email — if their request seems questionable.

And that friend who’s stranded in London with no money or passport? Give them a quick ring before wiring the cash. They may very well be safe and sound at home. Same with the friend who sends you a link to an “awesome” video. Text your friend and double-check that their account hasn’t been hacked before clicking on the link.

Be selective when you shop

There are some bad eggs out there, but that doesn’t mean you need to live off the grid to keep yourself safe. It does, however, mean you should be selective when choosing who to do business with. When you’re shopping online, make sure the site is secure by looking for a lock icon and “https” in the web address.

If you’re shopping for insurance, you can rest assured Esurance has your back. As a company born online, we’ve taken privacy and security seriously from the start. How do we do it? That’s for our tech nerds to know … and the hackers not to find out.

Have any other security tips? Let us know in the comments section below.

Related link

Get in-depth online security tips from staysafeonline.org.
Get 3 tips for keeping hackers at bay.

New Mexico: From Champagne Powder to Flying Saucers

Esurance now offers car insurance in New Mexico! To celebrate, we asked some longtime New Mexico residents to share their favorite places around the state.

Join us for a virtual tour of the Land of Enchantment. We’ll begin in the rugged mountains of northern New Mexico and make our way to the southeastern plains.

Rio Grande Gorge

This mighty river runs all the way through the state, but it’s especially dramatic toward the north, where it’s carved a rugged canyon 800 feet deep. Spanning the canyon is the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge, the fifth highest in the country at 650 feet. And since the river here is a designated Wild and Scenic River, we’ll do a little white-water rafting on the Class IV Taos Box segment or the Class III-IV Racecourse, depending on how daring we feel.

When to go: The gorge offers great rafting all year, but the weather is best (and the water levels are most stable) in the fall.

Taos Pueblo

Next, we’ll stop at an ancient village just outside the town of Taos. Native tribes have lived in this collection of adobe structures for over 1,000 years, making it the oldest continuously inhabited community in the country. It’s both a UNESCO World Heritage site and a National Historic Landmark.

When to go: The Pueblo is open year round, except for 10 weeks in late winter/early spring. The Christmas Eve ceremony, which blends Native American and Catholic traditions and features a religious procession, dancing, and massive bonfires, is one of the highlights of the year.

Taos

Tucked below Wheeler Peak (New Mexico’s highest point at over 13,000 feet), the picturesque town of Taos is surrounded by spectacular mountains and desert.

When to go: There’s no wrong time, but we suggest December, when you can ski the perfectly smooth and dry “champagne powder” in nearby resorts by day and stroll through streets decorated with farolitos (paper lanterns) by night.

Abiquiu

Renowned painter Georgia O’Keeffe was deeply inspired by the New Mexico landscape. In 1949, she settled here permanently, spending winters at her home in the village of Abiquiu and summers at Ghost Ranch, 14 miles north. We’ll stop in to see O’Keeffe’s home and studio and then head up to Ghost Ranch to explore the scenery she captured in her paintings.

When to go: Mid-October, for the annual artists’ studio tours. (Abiquiu is now home to a growing community of contemporary artists.)

Chaco Culture Historic Park

Native cultures have thrived in New Mexico for more than 1,000 years. In Chaco Canyon, between 850 and 1250 AD, the Chacoan people built an incredible administrative and agricultural center, featuring huge, multistory stone buildings, astrological markers, and sophisticated devices for controlling water. You might call it America’s Machu Picchu — like that ancient Peruvian wonder, Chaco’s true purpose remains an enigma. Was it a gathering place for important ceremonies? A major trading hub? We’ll ponder these mysteries as we hike around the canyon.

When to go: April to October, when the park offers its Night Sky Program.

Santa Fe

Settled by the Spanish around 1609, Santa Fe is the oldest capital city in North America. We’ll tour the sites near historic Santa Fe Plaza, like the Palace of the Governors (the oldest public building in the U.S.), San Miguel Mission (considered the oldest church in the U.S.), and Loretto Chapel, with its remarkable wooden spiral staircase seemingly held up by air. If we want more art, we’re in luck — Santa Fe is the country’s third largest art market and home to over a dozen museums.

When to go: Christmas here is magical and summer is packed with festivals (as well as people). But the ideal time might be September through November for colorful festivals without the crowds.

Blake’s Lotaburger

Locals say Blake’s is the best part about driving through the state — their Green Chile Cheeseburger is pure New Mexico. We’ll stop for one. (A day.)

When to go: Right now.

Albuquerque

New Mexico’s largest city is known for its sunny days (around 310 per year), historic sites like Petroglyph National Monument, and quirky museums like the American International Rattlesnake Museum.

When to go: Early October, for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, when over 500 hot air balloons fill the skies.

The Lightning Field

Next, we’ll head to the high desert outside the town of Quemado to view The Lightning Field. This fascinating land art display consists of hundreds of stainless-steel poles arranged at 220-foot intervals across a large grid. Each rod’s been carefully placed so that the sharpened tips appear to form a solid horizontal plane, an effect that’s particularly dramatic at sunrise and sunset.

Advance reservations are needed to view the installation and stay overnight in the art foundation’s simple cabin. Luckily, we’ve already booked our space.

When to go: Visiting season runs May 1 through Oct 31.

Hatch

Those Blake’s burgers have left us with a hankering for chiles. Our next stop is the “Chile Capital of the World” to load up on green and red chiles for the road.

When to go: Labor Day Weekend for the annual Hatch Chile Festival.

White Sands National Monument

Now that our taste buds have been sated, we’ll dazzle our eyes at the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Made of pure hydrous calcium sulfate swept by wind from evaporated lake beds, these glistening white sand dunes cover 275 square miles, rise up to 3 stories high, and are visible from space.

When to go: May through October, when the park offers full-moon hikes and events.

Carlsbad Caverns

Located in New Mexico’s southeastern corner, this national park is best known for the Big Room, a massive chamber the size of 6.2 football fields. There are 119 other known caves in the park, which was once an ancient undersea reef. Over the millennia, the ground lifted and sulfuric acid dissolved the soft limestone, creating a profusion of extraordinary formations.

We’ll take the self-guided Big Room tour to view famous features like the Hall of Giants, Doll’s Theater, and Totem Pole. If we’re feeling adventurous, we’ll also take one of the more strenuous ranger-guided tours, where we’ll squeeze through narrow passages and climb down ladders to see hard-to-access chambers and formations. We’ll want to stick around until sunset, when several hundred thousand bats spiral up from the cavern for their nightly hunt.

When to go: The most impressive bat flights occur in July and August.

Roswell

In early July 1947, a large metal object crashed onto a ranch 75 miles from Roswell. Was it a weather balloon or an alien spacecraft?  Was there a massive government cover-up or is it all just hype? We’ll test out our theories at the Roswell UFO Museum.

When to go: Year-round.

Real-world travels in New Mexico

So far, we’ve been traveling virtually (no insurance required). But if you’re a New Mexico resident with actual roads to travel, you can get our reliable auto coverage here.

And if you have your own suggestions for what to see and do in New Mexico, share them below.