For the title character in the movie “Forrest Gump,” life was like a box of chocolates. For “Forrest Gump” star Tom Hanks, some of those chocolates have melted.
Oscar winner Hanks, one of Hollywood’s most likeable celebrities, is among four customers of a Southern California insurance broker who allegedly bilked them out of more than $800,000, the FBI said.
The alleged rip-off by insurance broker Jerry B. Goldman, 59, happened from 1998 through 2011. The FBI identified Hanks and musician Andy Summers, who played guitar for rock band The Police, as two of the alleged victims. The two other alleged victims are listed in court documents as M.W.H. and S.R.
M.W.H. may refer to Hanks’ wife, actress Rita Wilson. Her full first name is Margarita, and the W and H could be her acting name (Wilson) and married name (Hanks).
Federal court documents show Hanks and M.W.H. lost at least $316,000 in the alleged scam.
The types of insurance coverage involved in the alleged swindle include property, auto, flood, earthquake, fine art and multimedia liability.
‘False sense of security’
According to the indictment, Goldman negotiated insurance premiums on behalf of his clients, and then was paid commissions by the insurer on each policy. Goldman allegedly wrote fraudulent invoices on his company’s letterhead that overbilled his customers by as much as 600 percent. He then pocketed the difference, authorities said.
To “lull his clients into a false sense of security,” the indictment says, and to prevent them from suing him or reporting him to federal or state authorities, when clients asked Goldman for copies of their insurance policies, he sent copies of the policies but blacked out the actual premium amounts. That way, the indictment alleges, Goldman kept his clients from figuring out they’d been overcharged.
James Quiggle, a spokesman for the nonprofit Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, says the charges against Goldman “reinforce the need for agencies and insurers to have thorough checks, balances and controls in place to detect suspicious signals that an agent has gone rogue. And if a scam is uncovered, they have to review their systems and candidly ask, ‘How did this happen, why did we miss it and how can we plug the hole?’”
Goldman was charged in a 10-count criminal indictment. He lives in the Los Angeles suburb of Thousand Oaks, where he was arrested; his business, J.B.G. Insurance Agency Inc., is in nearby Newbury Park. He’s been a licensed insurance broker in California since 1985.
Goldman has pleaded not guilty to the charges. If convicted, he could be sentenced to as much as 200 years in federal prison. His trial is set for Dec. 18.
Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the nonprofit National Insurance Crime Bureau, says that “given the potential punishment if he is convicted, this defendant might be seeing many more stars at his sentencing.”
Preventing insurance scams
Insurance schemes rack up at least $80 billion a year in losses, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud estimates.
“Crooked agents may steal your premiums to support their business, feed a gambling or drug habit, or buy luxury goods such as cars or jewelry,” the coalition says.
The coalition offers these tips for preventing scams by insurance agents and brokers:
- Make sure the insurance agent and insurance company are licensed in your state. You can obtain licensing information your state insurance department.
- Contact the Better Business Bureau or another consumer assistance agency to see whether the agent has had complaints filed against him.
- Back off if the agent offers coverage with prices 30 percent to 50 percent lower than what competitors charge.
- Pay your premiums by check or money order. In most cases, make them payable to the insurance company, not the agent or agency. Be sure to get payment receipts. Photocopy your checks or money orders.
- Be suspicious if the agent insists you pay in cash.
- Buy coverage only after you completely and your agent completely fill out all documents, you fully understand what coverage is included and you know what the cost for each type of coverage is.
- Never sign a blank insurance form or give your agent power of attorney to sign an insurance application or buy coverage for you.