As tornado season approaches, insurance industry experts are encouraging homeowners to confirm that they have enough insurance to replace their homes should they be destroyed or damaged by severe weather.
“Reliable estimates reveal that between 50 and 70 percent of homeowners do not have sufficient insurance to rebuild their home in the event of a major storm,” said Jerry Johns, president of Southwestern Insurance Information Service.
Some of the issues to consider are increases in construction costs, any renovations or improvements to the home and local building codes, he said.
Consumers often confuse the market value of their home rather than replacement value, Johns explained. If a person does not have adequate insurance a company may pay only a portion of the cost of replacing or repairing damaged items.
Maintaining a current inventory of personal items in your home is highly recommended, Johns said. He suggests keeping a video taped or hand-written inventory that is kept in a safe place away from the home.
Happy Monday from OPUBCO HQ, where I’m glad my pick for Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker,” had such a great showing last night at the Academy Awards.
Here’s a few of our stories you might have missed over the weekend:
–Watchdog reporter Ann Kelley had an update on an investigation into a decorated state trooper who has been accused of improperly handling surplus helicopter parts. The trooper, Joe Howard, continues to draw his annual salary of $57,600 on paid leave as the investigation now drags into its 15th month.
–A plan to protest a pending Open Records request by The Oklahoman may have backfired for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association, whose members could face an ethics investigation for using state equipment to e-mail and phone the newspaper and the state agency that received the request at their association’s urging. (More background on the newspaper’s request is here.)
The workers were upset because the newspaper requested birth dates, salaries and other basic employment information for all state employees. The request remains unfulfilled. The birth dates of public employees have been deemed public information under a recent opinion by [Attorney General Drew] Edmondson.
Edmondson released the birth dates for his employees to the newspaper last month. Oklahoma City Public Schools this week released birth dates for more than 5,000 district employees in response to an open records request.
–While we’re talking about background checks, Watchdog reporter Sonya Colberg dug into just how much information can be gleaned from the state’s standard background check. Not included in the standard background checks by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation are criminal records from other states, protective orders or civil filings. For a good explanation of what is and isn’t covered, check out the box that ran with the story.
–The debate over what to do with health care reform continues to rage in Washington, but one company based in Tennessee appears to be playing on the fears of customers. Watchdog reporter Vallery Brown has the story in today’s paper about an alleged health insurance scam that has left a trail of unpaid claims across the country, including Oklahoma. (More background on that story here.)
–Courts reporter Nolan Clay had an interesting story on the limits of technology and law enforcement. It turns out a convicted felon who had already served time in federal and state prison for weapons and drug convictions was allowed to wear a GPS ankle bracelet:
Early last year, convicted drug dealer Ricky Fitzgerald Reese was sent to state prison to serve a five-year sentence for selling crack cocaine near an Oklahoma City high school.
He stayed 10 months.
In late November, prison officials put an ankle monitor on him and let him loose. By February, prosecutors allege, he was selling drugs again — even as corrections officials were supposedly monitoring him by global positioning satellites.
I talked to state Insurance Commissioner Kim Holland today about this story I did in December about an “insurance plan” that has left many Oklahomans high and dry. The company is called American Trade Association (And Healthcare America, Superior Healthcare, Smart Data Solutions and Real Benefits Association, among others).
The bottom line is, they are taking money from people on the plan and not paying on claims, Holland said. Some plan buyers say the company has paid on smaller claims like routine check ups, only to turn around and reject larger claims like emergency room visits.
Here is an advertisement for the plan:
Notice all of the Americana and emotional references in the ad? Here is an “informercial” about ATA as well.
Look for lots of documents and another story on ATA in The Oklahoman and on www.newsok.com this weekend.
And for those looking to buy insurance in the near future, the state Insurance Department encourages all consumers to call and confirm that any company or insurance agent offering insurance or insurance-like products is properly licensed to do business. Call the Oklahoma Insurance Department consumer hot line at (800) 522-0071 or visit www.oid.ok.gov.
Some people just don’t know when to stop.
A man contacted us with a story today. He claimed to be the victim of a scam that has cost him nearly $4,000. His bank account is now frozen, he said, and with two young children, a wife and an impending army deployment, he told me he was running out of options.
He asked if I could help so I asked him for his story.
The man identified himself and told me that about a month ago he and his wife were looking for employment online and stumbled across a company that claimed to pay people to shop. He said he signed up for the program and a few weeks later a check came in the mail.
He went on to tell me how real the check looked, how official the letterhead appeared, how the process seemed legitimate to both him and his wife.
The instructions told him to deposit the check, keep $1,000 for himself, and send $1,000 to the company as a fee in the form of a Money Gram. The rest, according to the letter, would be spent purchasing items and checking out different retail stores across Oklahoma City.
The man said he tried to call the number listed on his paperwork and it was busy. He didn’t get suspicious, however, and proceeded to take the check to his local bank. The bank teller didn’t look skeptical of the check, he said, but as a matter of bank policy she called around to check the funds of the account. She came up empty handed–no information on the account at all. However, she cashed the check on the spot and left $1,000 in his bank account.
He said he had no idea that anything was wrong until he went to the store a few days later to purchase cleaning supplies. The cashier told him that his card had been declined.
The man called the bank and they told him his account was frozen because he had cashed a fraudulent check.
I offered to work something out with them,” he said. “They have to get their money back, I know, but they are going after the wrong person.”
I asked hime if he had seen anything on the news about this scam.
It’s been fairly publicized,” I said. “The Attorney General’s office made a big hubbub about it this summer and a few of the television channels did stories.”
He didn’t tell me that he’d seen them, but he reiterated how real everything looked.
I told him I would do some digging and call him back with more information, but I didn’t trust the holes in his story. Something didn’t make sense.
After some serious searching and following my gut, the only thing I turned up was the fact that the man himself is a swindler.
Meanwhile, there are people who have fallen prey to this scam. Be aware that sometimes people and things aren’t what they appear to be and the scammers are often themselves parading as the victims in order to get what they want.
On Jan. 28 I posted a question asking if any readers had been in accidents with uninsured drivers. I was blown away by the response.
By the next day, my inbox was clogged with over 50 emails about people who have suffered anger, loss, shock and, yes, even triumph after being in accidents with drivers who failed to carry insurance.
According to reports, it’s a growing problem in Oklahoma. The empirical evidence I have in my inbox puts a very real face to it.
One man recounted a string of unfortunate events that culminated in his car being totaled by an uninsured driver. In his nearly 2,000 word email, he told of the struggle and the lessons he’s taken away from the event.
“Without the wreck I would have never stayed at the job with the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, I would have moved on to other areas within the energy industry, I would have never gone back to college. So while I am bitter that justice wasn’t served, I am happy that it happened. My future wouldn’t be what it is now without that wreck.”
But most people’s stories didn’t end optimistically.
Dozens of emails told similar stories. Accounts of drivers with no insurance costing insured motorists thousands of dollars in repairs, hospitalization and time off from work.
And sneaky drivers with no insurance who, after the wreck, pass off expired verifications or illegally flee the scene. One reader told of a woman who fled with her child. The police didn’t chase her because of the infant she had in tow.
Another story I found heartbreaking summed up the woman’s thoughts on what needs to be done to fix the problem:
“My husband broke nine ribs, lacerated his spleen, and punctured his lung. He’s lucky to be alive. Sadly, my husband had no medical insurance and his bills are out of this world. Due to this wreck, he is still unable to return to work. I wish the guidelines and penalties were stricter.”
One similarity shared by all of the stories was the theme of injustice — Law abiders who now bear the burden of the law breaker.
I promise to cover your stories and this terrible trend that is costing Oklahomans dearly. Thank you for all of your stories.