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Life Health > Life Insurance

Agents behaving badly

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Monitor the news and you are bound to come across stories about insurance agents trying to scam clients, prospective clients or insurance companies in a quest for ill-gotten booty.

Naturally you never seem to hear about the good, important work the vast majority of insurance agents are doing every day to help protect clients and their families – it’s just not newsworthy, with the rare exception of a human interest story about someone going way over and above to help someone in a difficult position.

Still, we can learn from some of the bad apples, even if our jaws are agape at the nerve of these people for the terribly unethical actions they have chosen to undertake in the name of money or malice.

Here are some “straight from the headlines” recent examples of agents behaving badly:

• “Crime against honour”: The owner of an insurance company in Castellón, Spain reportedly tried to seek revenge against two female former clients for not renewing coverage with his company in a particularly devious way.

Police arrested the man, accusing him of posting online ads offering “free sex” with their phone numbers. The Local said the ads received more than 75 views in the short time they were posted, resulting in numerous calls and messages.

After one of the women also reported having an argument with someone at an insurance company about not renewing insurance, the police discovered that the ad had been produced by that same company and arrested the author. The suspect has been released with charges after testifying and will have to appear again in court at a date not yet specified.

• Fraudulent policy replacement: On May 19,a Pennsylvania appellate court affirmed a $300,000 judgment against Riversource Life Insurance Co. in a suit accusing the company and its agent of making fraudulent misrepresentations in the sale of a couple’s variable universal life policy, concluding that the evidence supported the trial judge’s finding.

According to an article in JD Supra, the agent told policyholders that their policy was “outdated” and should be replaced with the VUL policy providing for the same level of coverage for the same $50 monthly premium. The real cost to keep the policy in effect, of course, was significantly higher.

A bench trial judge ruled that the defendants had violated the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (“UTPCPL”) because they purposefully and intentionally misrepresented the life insurance policy’s terms, and the policy as issued and delivered differed materially from the policy that was sold. The judge awarded the policyholders $125,000 in statutory damages and $175,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs.

• Fake company, real life insurance nets agent 8 years: Cantonment, Fla.-based insurance agent Randall Petersen was recently sentenced to eight years in state prison followed by seven years of probation after being found guilty on April 8 of racketeering and money laundering by Circuit Court Judge Ross Goodman.

Operating under multiple business names, Petersen conducted a fraudulent insurance scheme that involved his theft of several hundred thousand dollars of commissions and bonuses from American National Insurance Company and Liberty National Insurance Company.

According to coverage in the Pensacola News Journal, Petersen’s scheme included advertising job opportunities online for a non-existent company, and induced hundreds of applicants to provide information for life insurance that he and his associates described as free job benefits. He used the information to complete life insurance applications, received commissions and bonuses totaling hundreds of thousands, and let the policies lapse for nonpayment before the companies realized the insureds were not employees.

A hearing will be held at a later date to determine restitution, which the state will request will be in excess of $500,000. The case resulted from an investigation by the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud.

In hearing of cases like these three, it’s always surprising to think the wrong-doers ever thought they could get away with it, and reassuring to know there are forces at work – like the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud—to make sure they do not.


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