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.
When I was in high school, a tornado ripped through my rural community, killing a local farmer and part of his herd, twisting massive hardwoods from the earth in which they’d been deeply rooted, and prying roofs off newly constructed dwellings. The scene, upon emerging from the safety of my basement, was both surreal and spooky.
Personal belongings scattered miles from where they belonged.
Home owners in search of a place to stay.
Curious souls rummaging through the rubble.
With the electricity out, we got our updates from a battery-powered radio and from friends.
In the months that followed, life eventually returned to normal for all those families affected by the twister, but it wasn’t without considerable challenges, including identifying what was lost and estimating values.
I can’t help but think the recovery process would have been simpler, and communication much more streamlined, had this twister arrived in the Digital Age.
With smartphones rarely out of reach these days, an abundance of helpful information fits right in your hand. Here are a few planning and preparation apps you might want to load to your mobile device … especially as we enter tornado season.
When a tornado’s coming, seconds matter. This Red Cross app sends real-time tornado alerts right to your phone, so you can get to safety quickly. It also provides lots of helpful tips on what to do before, during and after a storm strikes. And there’s even an interactive quiz to test your knowledge of all things twister.
This app, from the Insurance Information Institute, provides preparation checklists for all major natural disaster types – floods, earthquakes, wind storms, etc. You can even develop your own list for an emergency unique to your area.
Disasters, by their very nature, come with little notice. It is possible, though, to prepare for the worst. This includes keeping a record of all you own, and storing it somewhere safe. American Family’s DreamVault app enables you to go from room to room, photographing your property and adding notes about its characteristics and value. You can even upload the receipt. And for safekeeping, all your data is stored in the cloud, where it’s safe from fires, flooding and any other disaster.
While there’s never a good time for a storm or disaster, the Digital Age has certainly made it easier for us to prepare and recover.
So what are you waiting for? Get those apps in hand!
American 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.
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I believe this is true for American Family Insurance, as well, and was reminded of it at a recent event I attended on behalf of my company.
Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center provides free counseling and courtroom preparation for children who have been physically, sexually or emotionally abused. American Family has provided more than $50,000 to this group since 2006, and several American Family employees have served on its board of directors. At the organization’s recent anniversary dinner, the center recognized American Family with an award for Outstanding Commitment to Children in Northwest Missouri.
I sat at a table with the person who oversees all the child advocacies in the state, the local director of the organization, the local prosecutor and the former prosecutor from Joplin, Mo.
Some may consider the 2011 Joplin tornado to be old news now, but to those who were there, the memories are still very fresh. The retired Joplin prosecutor told us he thought American Family’s performance in the aftermath of the tornado was exemplary. He also said that at the time of the tornado, he was not insured with American Family, but after seeing our efforts, he now is.
Another person at the table said she, too, was influenced by how American Family responded to the tornado victims and is also now insured with us.
We really do provide excellent customer service. Getting feedback like this just reinforces that when we do the right thing, everybody wins. Clearly, we hit a home run in Joplin. Hearing what these people had to say about American Family was one of the best experiences I’ve had in my many years with the company.
The ones who really deserve the recognition, though, are the local agents, the property claim field adjusters and the agency sales manager for the area, Julie Hickman. One of our agents even lost his office during the tornado, and yet he was working around the clock to help his customers recover from their losses.
More than 130 American Family employees and adjusters helped out in the wake of the Joplin tornado. These people are the real folks who lived our mission, and their efforts pay off in the form of new, loyal customers – like the ones I met at dinner.
Editor's note: Click here to learn more about how American Family supports our local communities -- like Joplin -- through philanthropy and event sponsorship.
Last 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.