Jonathan Edewards

Santa Ana Winds Topple Pasadena Trees, Insurance Claims Result

How a personal insurance agent can help you recover from a personal or commercial loss.

The fiercest winds in 50 years caused a lot of damage in Pasadena and Los Angeles on Wednesday.

This unlucky Volvo was crushed by a toppled tree

On the street where I live, I saw at least 2 cars that had been crushed by huge tree limbs that fell on them, smashing the roof and windows.  “Comprehensive” auto insurance coverage, also known as “other-than-collision,” is devised to help an insured recover from just such a loss.  It also provides coverage from theft. Home owners and business owners whose awnings blew away, or whose roofs were damaged, or windows broken, or who lost business due to a power outage, should be able to recover the loss from their property insurance. Businessowners’ policies even typically provide some coverage for plants, shrubs, and trees (usually limited to $2,500 or less per plant), and may be able to include the cost to replace the trees that were torn from the ground in their claim. The fastest and easiest way to report a claim is to call the insurance company claims hotline directly.  My Safeco Insurance clients should call 800-332-3226. Insureds who have bypassed an agent by purchasing insurance online, or directly from the insurance company, must call their claims hotline, and have no other alternative. However, an insurance agent provides a second alternative to contacting the insurance company directly and dealing with the claims hotline.  My clients know that they can always call me for assistance with the claim. Having an agent is valuable for (at least) two reasons: an agent has a personal, continual relationship with you and should be familiar with your special situation already.  Less time is spent gathering information and correcting misunderstandings.  Secondly, an agent is familiar with the “inside contacts” within an insurance company, and can help a client “go up the ladder” if a problem arises and the claim is not handled to the client’s satisfaction. For example, I recently assisted a business client who had experienced an costly auto accident.  The dealership, where the Mercedes had been taken for repair, was backed up and not cooperating with the claims department.  After several non-responses, and an estimate that was close to the car’s value, the insurance company moved to declare the vehicle a total loss, rather than proceeding with repair.  The insured preferred to repair the vehicle. I intervened with both the dealership and the claims department, pointing out to the dealership that they were about to lose the repair business unless they offered better terms to the insurance company.  On the claims side, I contacted the manager of the claims department, reviewed the valuation report, noted that the vehicle’s condition was better than the report indicated, and thus a total loss would require a larger settlement than previously thought.  The vehicle was repaired, and my client was pleased. The insurance companies that I represent have excellent, fast, and friendly claim departments, and claims are handled to the customer’s satisfaction the first time around, which is why I recommend that clients make their initial report directly to the insurance company. But if the case goes awry, I’m available to assist. Pasadena will be green again, and the residents and businesses who are properly insured will be able to recover from their loss relatively painlessly.  That’s what insurance–and an insurance agent–is for.

iPhone App Dials Claims, Roadside Assistance for Quick Help

In the admittedly boring world of insurance, it’s a challenge for companies to innovate and excite their customers with new products.  When was the last time you saw a line out the door of your local insurance agent for the latest expanded coverage option?

Not recently, I wager.

However, Safeco Insurance–which offers personal auto & homeowners insurance as part of the Liberty Mutual insurance group–has hit on a nifty new feature to help their customers.  And as an added bonus, they get to be associated with trendy tech giant Apple, Inc.

The new feature is  Safeco’s iPhone application.

The app empowers customers to take camera-phone photos of their dented cars and wrecked roofs, and then e-submit to claims.  It will dial directly to your insurance agent (me!) or the claims department, or call for Roadside Assistance.  Plus, you can view your policy information, auto ID cards, or get a quote.

BE STILL MY BEATING HEART!!!

One of the app users recently sang its praises when she told us how it helped an unpleasant situation go more smoothly.

A week after downloading the app, Texas agent Cherie Y was driving home on a dark stretch of rural highway, “in the middle of nowhere,” when she hit a deer.

“It was a mess,” she says.

Cherie immediately grabbed her iPhone and accessed Safeco’s app.

“I pushed two options and I was reporting the entire claim after I had a three-way conversation with Roadside Assistance,” says Cherie.

It was after midnight on a cold, wintry night so she was thankful when, one hour later, she found herself “warm and toasty” in the cab of a tow truck.

“I never dialed a phone number myself,” says Cherie. “Does it get any better than that?”

The next morning, an adjuster stopped by and Cherie had her claim check in hand by noon, less than 12 hours after the accident.

“At no time did we tip our hand” about being a Safeco agent, says Cherie. “I felt like a secret shopper.”

If you are a Safeco customer and have an iPhone, take a few minutes to download it.   

By the way, our office opens at 9am.  See you in line!

iPickpocket? Identity Theft, Credit Monitoring, and Insurance

Cash has always been king in my family.  At the store, my parents are always fumbling around with envelopes of dollar bills. My grandmother once carried around $30,000 of uncashed checks in her purse.  She was afraid of banks.  Me?  I whip out the plastic at every opportunity.

It’s hard to believe how fast and how drastically our world has changed in the last 20 years.  When Reagan and Bush the First were president (remember them?), we paid with actual currency, or we wrote a personal check.  Nowadays, many stores don’t accept checks, and for many of us, cash is now for emergencies only.  Our paychecks get automatically deposited in the bank.  Bills are paid EFT. Groceries, gas, clothes, toys, and all the other junk we buy is paid for with credit or debit card.

In the old days, when folks were walking around with cash, it was pretty easy to notice when you got robbed.  Wham! A blow to the head, you’re shoved to the ground, and some thuggish type is running off with your purse or wallet.  Or, you’re in a crowd, a stranger brushes by, and a few minutes later you realize that a pickpocket has deftly made off with your wallet.

In our electronic age, however, theft can now easily go undetected. The only symptom of electronic theft is a difference in numbers displayed on a computer screen or printed on a bank or billing statement.

Electronic theft and Identity Theft is now common. Just this December, the FBI caught a gang of thieves skimming from jimmied card readers at 99 Cent Stores in the San Fernando Valley.  Over Christmas, a thief stole $62,000 from over 200 customers who swiped their cards at a gas station in Sierra Madre .  The theft amounts were small, and many victims were unaware until they heard about it on the news.

Skimming is the new pickpocketing; theft amounts are small and often go unnoticed. But, once the crooks have your card number and PIN, those small thefts can be repeated, adding up to a large loss over time.

Identity Theft, on the other hand, is the new robbery.  By getting a line of credit in your name, a crook can steal large amounts that’ll hit you over the head when the bill collectors start calling.

There are a few common sense precautions to avoid Identity Theft: pay with credit, not debit; don’t respond to incoming emails or phone calls that fish for your info; ask for your free credit report on a quarterly basis.

And, of course, there are credit monitoring services, which make a buck by tracking your credit record.  The problem with credit monitoring services is that they actually make a LOT of bucks doing that.  Offers that I’ve received seem awfully pricey to me, averaging $15-$30 per month.  That adds up fast.

However, one little-mentioned option is Identity Theft Protection that can endorsed onto your standard Homeowner’s or Renter’s Insurance Policy.  Almost all insurance companies offer this protection as an add-on.  And it’s cheap; typical cost is $12 to $20 in additional premium.  Per Year. That’s more affordable than a credit monitoring service.

The coverage and limit of Identity Theft Protection varies by insurance company.  Usually, it’s limited to $25,000.  If the theft involves a credit card, your liability is limited by law; the real damage will involve your credit score and your lost time.  Identity Theft Protection may reimburse you for the time you spend trying to undo the damage.  The time that a victim spends writing letters and making phone calls (imaging the time spent on hold and navigating automated phone systems!) to credit companies, in an effort to clear their record, can amount to thousands of dollars of lost wages, and lots of frustration.  As part of the Identity Theft Protection, one of my insurance companies (Safeco) assigns a case manager to their insureds.  The case manager can help you, so that you can avoid frustration and lost time in an effort to undo the damage and get your credit history cleared.

Renters, who are often uninsured, can get Identity Theft Protection by purchasing a Renter’s Insurance Policy, and adding on the Identity Theft Protection coverage. 

Like Homeowners Insurance, a renter’s insurance policy covers loss to Personal Property (your “stuff”).  Since the dwelling itself is not covered (the landlord is responsible for insuring his building), the cost of renter’s insurance is very affordable, usually $150-250 per year on average.  In addition, most insurance companies will give renters a multi-policy discount on auto insurance, which could amount to real savings.  If you are a renter, you can protect your possessions and mitigate your losses in the event of Identity Theft, and reduce your auto insurance premium by qualifying for a multi-policy discount.  That’ll give you the confidence to keep swiping those credit & debit cards with style.