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Insurance Claims

Avoid Being Victimized Twice: Prevent Contractor Fraud

How to prevent contractor fraud.It is heart-wrenching when our customers are victims of bad storms and natural disasters. It could happen to any one of us.

What is even worse, though, is when opportunists take advantage of customers after storms and natural disasters. These would-be “contractors” promise to repair damage to homes and property, and then they take off with the money without doing the work. In some cases, they may even do the work, but it involves lesser quality materials and workmanship than what they were paid for. This makes our customers victims twice.

Welcome to the world of contractor fraud. This seems to be most common during the storm season that gets under way in the springtime, but it can strike at any time.

Here is a real life example. In May of 2013, storms hit Milwaukee, and in response, American Family Insurance was busily following through on its commitments to its customers.

Out of the blue, one of our agents was contacted by a policyholder who said an individual knocked on her door, claiming that he would repair damage to her home if she would just sign a contract. And here’s the kicker – this individual said he was connected with American Family Insurance.

She almost became a victim … twice. American Family did not send this “contractor” to do repairs.

It is a good thing the policyholder called. After some quick contacts by the American Family Insurance agent, it turned out other policyholders were reporting similar instances in the area, too.

Many were tricked into signing contracts that could be binding, and authorizing repairs that in some cases weren’t even done. During the investigation, we discovered that some policyholders were even being duped into having their settlement checks go to the fraudulent “contractor” company and not to the policyholders themselves!

Thanks to the fast response by the American Family Insurance Property Claims Department and Special Investigations Unit, we helped many other policyholders avoid being taken advantage of.

There are a lot of really good, honest contractors out there. However, if your property is damaged after a storm, we encourage you to do your homework before signing anything.

Here are some simple considerations: 

  • Try to hire local contractors who will be around if any concerns arise with the repairs both during and afterwards.
  • Verify the contractor is licensed and insured.
  • Check references.
  • Consider getting more than one bid or opinion.
  • Consult the Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Better Business Bureau to see if there are complaints against the contractor you’re thinking of hiring.
  • If something doesn’t seem right – give your insurance agent a call!

Don’t be a victim twice – first by having your property damaged by severe weather, and then a second time by having an opportunist cheat you.

Editor’s note: For more tips on avoiding contractor fraud, check out this @dvisor story, as well as this Learning Center article from our website. 

Posted by Jolene Cloyd on Fri, Mar 14 2014 7:36 amJolene Cloyd is a Senior Field Investigator at American Family Insurance.

Inspiring, protecting and rebuilding dreams

American Family Insurance 2013 annual reportAmerican Family Insurance inspires, protects and rebuilds our customers’ dreams, as illustrated in the stories featured our 2013 annual report.

Perhaps you have had similar experiences.

Our customer focus starts with you and your relationship with our American Family agents, trusted advisers who care about knowing and meeting your needs. It continues with our employees, who are thoughtful, innovative and dedicated to serving you.

Our financial strength improved in 2013, with policyholder equity increasing to $6.6 billion. Policyholder equity is what we have available to protect you when the unexpected occurs. We anticipate paying more than $3.4 billion for claims incurred in 2013.

But we do more than pay claims. We provide in-car technology to help teens and adults become safer drivers. Our DreamBank in Madison, Wis., continues to inspire visitors by helping them identify and pursue their individual dreams. And, we support communities nationally through sustainability and charitable efforts.

Our dream is to protect more people across the country. A major part of this effort is our strong investment in products, systems and services for customers of our American Family agents.

We are also expanding our reach to consumers who prefer to conduct business using the Internet or call centers. In 2013, we acquired Homesite Group, a direct property insurance company, and helped create AssureStart, a startup direct small-business insurance distributor. They join The General®, a direct auto insurance company we acquired in 2012.

Together, the companies in our American Family group provide options to meet consumers’ varied preference.

Thank you for inspiring us with your dreams ... and for allowing American Family to serve you.

Editor’s note: Read and share the stories from your fellow American Family Insurance customers in our 2013 annual report. Tell us what inspires you about their dreams. 

Posted by Jack Salzwedel on Tue, Mar 04 2014 11:10 am

Avoiding ice dams (and showers indoors)

Preventing ice damsWhen you’ve got kids, there are certain comments you just don’t want to hear.

“Daddy, the cat peed on your workbench.”

“We all traded hats in school today! How come my head itches?”

And then I'll never forget this one: “Daddy, Daddy, it’s raining in the family room!”

When I heard that, I rushed downstairs to discover my children frolicking about as a steady shower sprinkled downward from the ceiling beams. What fun!

It was on that unseasonably warm March morning when the term “ice dam” entered my vocabulary.

Looking out our family room window, I could see portions of the ice dam – a solid layer of ice and icicles encrusting the rain gutter along the edge of the roof.

The rapidly melting snow running down the roof was blocked by this dam, and the water began creeping its way back up the roof, seeping under the shingles and dripping through cracks and holes in the roof covering.

Meanwhile, inside our house, the ceiling had become so sodden that it began to shower indoors.

Three factors contributed to this predicament:

Insulation and structural issues: We had warm air in the attic, largely due to improper insulation, and the lack of ridge and soffit vents. This warm air heated the underside of the roof, increasing the rate of melting snow on top. So, uh, it was the house’s fault!

Clogged gutters: Okay, this one’s on me. I was lazy and didn’t clean my gutters the preceding fall.

Snow buildup: If I had removed about 3 to 5 feet snow feet from edge of the roof, that would have reduced or even eliminated the ice dam(age). Hindsight is 20-20.

Maybe there were other causes, but those seemed to be the big ones.

By the time I figured all of this out, the “rain inside” was starting to get out of hand. When your kids have to wear raincoats and boots just to watch TV, you know you’ve got a problem.

I had to act quickly. Using a hastily purchased roof rake, I pulled enough snow off the roof to bring the indoor showers to a virtual halt.

Then came the arduous work of cleaning everything up, and addressing the lack of insulation and venting.

Ever since then, I’ve religiously cleaned my gutters in the fall, and have used my roof rake to remove snow from the roof throughout the winter.

No more ice dams.

I guess that’s water under the, um, bridge.

Editor’s Note: Want to learn more about preventing ice dams, and dealing with them when they happen?  Check out this @dvisor article, or watch the video on this Learning Center page.  

Posted by Bill Shepard on Fri, Feb 07 2014 8:35 am

'You're my hero'

Washington, Illinois tornado damageLast week, a customer called me a hero. Tonight, I’ll talk to someone else who considers me a hero.

I'm working a catastrophe event in central Illinois, where an extremely powerful tornado smashed through Washington and nearby communities the morning of Nov. 17. You may have seen stories in the news as it drew national and international attention.

I started out in American Family's Kansas City property claims office in 2008. In the next few years, I assisted at a number of catastrophe responses, and this sort of work appealed to me for various reasons.

For one thing, I like to see different parts of the country. I also like to meet people. And the team atmosphere is very strong – if I need information or the benefit of someone else’s perspective, I’m comfortable calling anyone on the team.

So, in 2011 I successfully applied for a job with the field catastrophe team. I love my job! You might think it would be depressing to go from one disaster to the next, but it’s quite the opposite. I’m a people person. Being able to meet someone face-to-face, and to offer comfort (or even a hug, if it’s needed) gives me a good feeling.

I arrived in Washington on Monday, Nov. 18, the day after the storm. It’s an incredible scene, when an entire community is challenged like this. You have people walking up and down the street, asking their neighbors or total strangers if they need a hand. Churches and other volunteer groups work long hours providing food, water and other needed supplies. There’s just this positive vibe all around you, as the community joins hands in the healing process.

I met with a customer in East Peoria, Ill., Wednesday, just down the road from Washington. About one-third of her home’s roof was torn off, and the inside was littered with drywall and insulation. Like many of us would be after experiencing such trauma, she was devastated and had trouble communicating with me.

We talked, we laughed, we hugged. As our customer started to open up a bit more, she shared that she had a hard time envisioning how her life would ever be the same again. And with the holidays just around the corner, those feelings of despair and helplessness were only magnified.

I was able to comfort her and help her to understand and believe that everything will come back together for her again. The roof will be rebuilt and the interior will be restored. Won’t be in time for Thanksgiving, but the contractor’s timeline may allow for Christmas at home.

“You’re my hero!” she exclaimed.

And that’s what I do for a living. That’s how I support my family, that’s what makes me feel like this is the right job for me. It looks like we’ll be here through the Thanksgiving holiday, teaming with the local and field claim units to get our customers back on their feet again.

The tough part is calling home to Kansas City every night. My daughter, Zayla, 7, demands to know, “When are you coming home, Mama?” My son, Zion, is only 3, and he’s just happy to hear my voice.

Someday soon, I will walk through that door, and get the chance to be a face-to-face mom again. That’s when I’ll really be a hero.

Posted by Jehanna Wilkins on Mon, Nov 25 2013 4:05 pmJehanna Wilkins is a catastrophe property claim field adjuster for American Family Insurance.

Childhood lessons make impressions for life

Steve O'DellI grew up in the insurance business and have a dad who’s been an agent with another company for 30 years. I started in the business when I was 22 and joined American Family last year. My dad taught me the true role of an insurance professional.

As a kid, I would watch him interact with customers after school, and I even tagged along with him to funerals. At the time, I was often bored, but as I got older I started to see and understand things differently. He was, and remains, a trusted adviser in the community.

I grew up in a small town, so my sister and I would walk to his office after school and do our homework in his conference room. I was about 10 or 11 years old at the time – old enough to have a very basic understanding of what insurance is (mostly auto insurance -- when there’s a car accident, an insurance company pays to fix it).

One day, I got a very real and emotional understanding of what my dad did for a living. My sister and I walked down the hall to his conference room and passed his office on the way. The office door was closed, but I could hear voices of adults and small children. My sister and I could hear muffled sounds coming from his office. It sounded like a woman crying and little kids whimpering. 

When his office door opened, I peeked down the hallway to see who was in there with him. It was a woman and her two children (3 and 5 years old). The woman was very emotional and you could tell she was crying. Her kids were holding onto her pant leg, while my dad gave the woman a big hug.

After they left, I went into dad’s office and asked him why the woman was crying. My dad had his back to me in his chair and as he turned around I realized he was pretty upset as well. He looked at me (I’ll never forget the emotion in his face) and said, “Son, that woman and her children lost their husband and dad in a car accident last week. I just told them that the mortgage was paid off, the cars were paid off, the kids’ college was paid for and mom could stay home and raise the children.”

Dad later told me the man who died hadn’t told his wife he had purchased such a large life insurance policy. Apparently, Dad greeted the woman at the funeral and told her she needed to come by his office when she was ready. She thought her husband had enough life insurance for the burial and maybe a little more. She had no idea there would be enough to pay off the mortgage, cover the kids’ college educations and supplement her income.

That experience has always stayed with me. It’s not only a reminder of how precious life is, but how important life insurance is. I believe it’s my job to bring up the subject with all my customers, educate them about life and provide life insurance options to meet their needs.

I still get a little emotional telling this story – even though I’ve told it a thousand times!  

Posted by Steve ODell on Tue, Nov 19 2013 10:03 am
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