You’re in the grocery store parking lot loading the week’s milk, eggs, and bananas into your trunk when a man approaches.

He tells you he noticed a small, almost imperceptible chip in your windshield — a chip that could eventually lead to bigger problems — and offers to fix it for you completely free of charge.

You strain to see the chip in question until finally you think you can almost make it out … the tiny chip that you’re now convinced will lead to much larger problems if you don’t have it fixed immediately.

Amazingly, a windshield repairman just happens to be on hand to help you out. Lucky, no?

Unfortunately, no. This is a known insurance scam and one that seems to be on the rise in parking lots all over America.

Windshield scams on the rise

According to Joe Laurentino, vice president of material damage at Esurance, stories like this one have become increasingly prevalent in recent months.

“Because some states waive the deductible on windshield chip repair, we’ve seen a rash of unscrupulous ‘repairmen’ offer ‘free’ repair. But here’s the catch — sometimes, there’s no damage to begin with. Sometimes it’s only a surface pit that causes no safety risk. Even worse, sometimes these fraudsters cause the damage before pointing it out to you,” Joe said.

Plain and simple, it’s a pre-meditated con, designed to bilk your insurance company for hundreds of dollars. Charging insurance companies for unnecessary claims is, of course, considered insurance fraud. And if you think it only affects your insurance company, think again.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates that fraudulent insurance claims add up to $80 billion annually in the U.S. And this means insurance fraud costs the average family approximately $950 a year in increased premiums.

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Having your windshield repaired

That’s not to say, however, you shouldn’t try to have that chip fixed sooner rather than later. According to Swansea Metropolitan University, 50 percent of chips crack within a year, 80 percent within 2 years, and 90 percent within 3 years.

Additionally, extreme temperature changes — like turning on your defroster or heat when the weather first turns cold, or turning on your A/C when the mercury starts to rise — create significant stress on your windshield, often causing small chips and cracks to spread.

If you have a chip, it’s important to have it inspected (by a trusted professional) to determine if your windshield needs to be repaired or replaced.

How to avoid windshield scams

If you were not already aware of the damage before someone pointed it out, it’s wise to contact your insurance company first. They’ll help you confirm the damage needs to be fixed and work with you to find a trusted glass vendor within their network to handle the repairs.

Because your windshield is a key part of your car’s structural integrity (providing up to 45 percent of the structural integrity of the vehicle’s cabin in a front collision and up to 60 percent in a rollover), you should never trust repairing or replacing your windshield to just anyone.

How to report insurance fraud

If you suspect a windshield scam or other insurance fraud, contact The National Insurance Crime Bureau by calling 800-TEL-NICB or texting the keyword “FRAUD” and your complaint to TIP411 (847411).

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about Heidi

Heidi brings 8 years’ experience to her role as Esurance’s copywriting manager. As a bona fide lit nerd and sucker for anachronism, she spends her days trying to incorporate Hemingway, Frost, and Shakespeare into car insurance (with varying degrees of success).