Thanks in large part to scammers lurking at gas stations, at car washes and even in your neighborhood, suspicious auto insurance claims involving broken windshields are breaking records. At stake is perhaps hundreds of dollars in expenses for repair of a windshield.
In fact, having a shady repair outfit work on your windshield -- rather than a reputable repair shop -- can cost you double, because you may have to replace the shoddy glass installed by a fly-by-night firm, says Andy Kipker, vice president of claims management at Safelite Solutions, one of the country’s largest providers of property and casualty claims management services.
In August 2010, the National Insurance Crime Bureau reported so-called "questionable" auto glass claims had soared 527 percent in the first half of 2010, compared with the same period in 2009. That's on top of a 76 percent jump in such claims from 2008 to 2009.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, one unidentified auto insurer handled more than $1 million in auto glass claims -- both fraudulent and legitimate -- from July 2009 to July 2010. Typically, each claim totals $50 to $300. Many auto glass claims are paid without much scrutiny, making it a popular target of scammers.
"We're seeing concern from our members about criminal rings that are deliberately damaging vehicle windshields in order to file an insurance claims, and in some cases are not doing satisfactory repairs or replacements," says Joe Wehrle, the National Insurance Crime Bureau's president and CEO.
According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, these are the top auto glass fraud schemes to watch out for:
• Offering to replace undamaged windshields. Crooks will try to persuade drivers to replace perfectly good windshields, then lie to your insurance company by stating the glass was severely damaged.
• Inflating damages. Swindlers often replace an expensive factory-installed windshield when it could have been repaired at a fraction of the cost. They also might charge insurers for fixing several chips when only one chip was repaired.
• Coming up with phantom damages. Once they have your insurance information, some con artists charge your auto insurer for several windshield replacements without your knowledge.
Safeguarding against swindles
Dawn Houpt, vice president of claims at The Graham Co., an insurance brokerage in Philadelphia, says the best way to avoid a repair swindle if a rock chips or cracks your windshield is to work directly with your auto insurance agent or provider.
"Consumers should always report damage directly to their insurer's claim department before authorizing any work be performed," Houpt says. That ensures you receive good customer service and can take advantage of every available option (like a comprehensive warranty) if something goes awry.
"An agent or carrier may also have a suggestion for a repair service or shop based on policyholder feedback and shop history," says Kipker, the Safelite executive.
Houpt says auto insurance companies typically maintain a roster of approved glass repair shops. But no matter where you take your car, Houpt recommends asking these questions before authorizing glass repairs:
• Does the repairer have certification from SafeTech, the National Glass Association or the Auto Glass Replacement Safety Standards Council? This will show the shop meets industry standards.
• Can the shop provide customer references?
• What is the shop's written warranty policy for parts and labor?
• Will the shop fully repair any damage that occurs during the installation?
Rick Ward, director of auto claims for MetLife Auto & Home, recommends that if you do visit a repair shop before filing a claim, contact your auto insurance company from the shop. "That will ensure your repairer and insurer are in agreement regarding the scope and process to be followed to get the repairs completed, which can help to simplify the process," Ward says.
Ward says a glass claim generally falls under the collision/comprehensive portion of an auto insurance policy. However, based on the state where the vehicle is insured, a glass claim may be covered under a separate policy that deals only with auto glass.
Typical policy deductibles range from $250 to $1,000. Repairing a windshield can cost as little as $50, while replacing it can run several hundred dollars, depending on the car's make and model.
Some auto insurers now offer full glass coverage with no deductible. "But that coverage costs a bit more than coverage with a deductible," says Houpt, the insurance claims executive in Philadelphia. The exact price depends on your state, your credit score and other factors, but Houpt says it's generally less than $250 a year.
If a neighbor's lawnmower propels a rock into your car's windshield, that claim would be handled under the homeowner's policy of the neighbor, says Kipker, the Safelite executive. And if debris from a big rig smashes your windshield, you may want to approach the truck's owner about covering the damage.
Worried your auto insurance premiums will increase if a road rock does whack your windshield? Relax.
"Generally, there would be little, if any, impact, on your premiums," Houpt says. "Glass claims are not considered a 'chargeable loss,' so they usually are not held against you when it's time to review your claim history to renew the policy."