A woman in Florida told her auto insurer that a hit-and-run
driver had hit her car. She filed a claim for the damages. Then she
went on Facebook and posted on her page how her daughter had caused
the automobile accident.
Before the insurer paid her claim, its investigators searched
social media and discovered the lie. She was later convicted of
filing a fraudulent claim.
Such scenarios are happening more frequently these days.
Property and casualty insurers are increasingly using social
media channels to investigate whether their customers' claims are
genuine, according to a recent report by Timetric, a provider of
online data, analysis and advisory services headquartered in
Timetric's 2013 study found that fraud investigators use social
media to investigate auto, fire and burglary claims the most.
"Mining social media for clues is one of the fastest-growing
areas of insurance-fraud investigation," says James Quiggle of the
Coalition Against Insurance Fraud in a report published last
Posts don't have to be obvious
Carlos Pallordet, a senior economist and spokesperson for
Timetric, says people are posting on their Facebook page or
tweeting things that could be used against them in a claims
investigation. "Some are more direct and some are more indirect,"
Examples of indirect posts that could make claims investigators
suspicious include photos or comments about the drivers' love of
speed or recklessness, their dislike of using seatbelts, or their
bragging about alterations they made to their cars that were
forbidden by their policies or undeclared, says Pallordet.
Some don't care
Frank Scafidi, spokesperson for the National Insurance Crime
Bureau based in Des Plaines, Ill., says you would think that if car
owners were committing auto insurance fraud they wouldn't boast to
the world about it on the Internet. Or Tweet it. But they do, and
investigators are taking advantage of customers' brazenness when
looking into claims.
"If people are dumb enough that they post things online that
come back to bite them, we'll take it," Scafidi says. "When it
comes to human and dumb, we continue to define the bottom."
Scafidi says that today social media has become "another tool"
that most claims investigators use to do their jobs well. Part of
it, Scafidi says, is that the computer makes it easy. Unlike when
he worked for the FBI for 20 years, retiring in 2004, today
investigators don't have to get in their cars and drive all over
the place, hoping to spot someone with an "injury" carrying a
ladder and cleaning out gutters. They simply sit at their desks to
find all kinds of information on claimants and their accidents.
Auto claims investigators not only use Facebook and Twitter but
also LinkedIn and Google to see what they can find about their
policyholders, Pallordet says. Any Internet or social media site is
fair game. "Facebook remains the biggest draw among social
networking websites, though Twitter is increasingly used by
insurance companies given its real-time status update option," he
Even sites or YouTube videos that you "like" or "dislike" can
give investigators clues to your personality and insight to how
honest you are about your claims, Pallordet says. "Like" skydiving
or bungee jumping? It could suggest you're a risk-taker. Use
Foursquare to let people know you're at a bar or nightclub and it
suggests you drink.
What others say may count
And it's not just a matter of what you post, but it's also what
post about you. Claims investigators can find plenty of things on
the Internet and social media from your friends and coworkers that
could prove useful, Pallordet says. "It could be what people say
about you on eBay -- if they had a bad experience buying from you
-- that gives the investigators an idea of who you are," he says.
"There are lots of things you can find on the Web just by searching
someone's name and not all that you find is necessarily posted by
Pallordet says investigators not only look at your social
profile but also who your friends are for potential information
that could be of use to them.
Tweeting can come back to bite you in other ways, too:
Don't tweet with burglars
Proving value of posts another thing
How do fraud investigators know they have the right policyholder
when looking at Tweets or Facebook or other posts?
They don't necessarily, Scafidi says. There is no way that an
insurance company can know for sure that it is reviewing
information about the right person. But they likely can connect the
dots with not much trouble, he says.
Finding a post or a Tweet about a claimant that may be
detrimental to their case is one thing, making a court-proof case
out of it is another. "You still have connect all of it and it's a
high bar to reach over," Scafidi says.
According to Timetric, lawmakers in the U.S. are working to make
laws governing the use of social media and privacy more stringent,
which could make it more difficult for social media "finds" to hold
up in court.