by Mark Goldwich
People know this time of year for buying gifts, gifts, and more gifts. No matter the economy, or the weather, or the state of the Nation, gifts are purchased this time of year by the hundreds of millions. That’s a lot of gifts. And a lot of money. And a lot of LOOT!
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Yes, sorry to burst your gifts-galore daydream, but many a gift will be stolen again this year, someright out from under the Christmas tree, just like in our favorite Dr. Seuss show. And more will be stolen from trunks, and backseats, from vans and from planes, from stores and from…well, you get the idea. This time of year is not only prime-time for retailers, it is prime-time for thieves as well.
Think about it. Brand new items, still in boxes. No wear, no tear, no scratches or scuffs, no personalization of any kind. Ready to sell, or pawn, or re-gift to a friend. It’s not difficult to see the allure of stealing Christmas presents – if you’re in the stealing state of mind.
Now that we have painted a rather nasty picture, let’s put an insurance claim bow on it, and see what we can DO about it. The way I see it, we have two main choices. We can try to avoid the theft, or we can transfer the risk (or the cost) of the theft, should it occur despite our best efforts to avoid it.
To avoid being a victim of holiday theft, there are countless websites that will give you endless tips, from email and credit card security, ATM safety, keeping gifts hidden, staying with your gifts, using alarms, carrying concealed weapons, etc.
Simply Google “Holiday Crime Prevention Tips” and you will quickly find a wealth of information that will greatly reduce your chances of falling victim to modern day Grinches.
But, should a holiday mishap happen to happen despite all your best laid plans to avoid it, there is always the transfer concept noted earlier. And by transfer, of course, I mean insurance. After all, that is what insurance is – transferring the risk of something bad (and expensive) happening, from someone (part of a large group of people) who can’t afford to have that something happen, to a group or company that can afford to pay for the loss, thanks to all the people in the group that did not have anything happen, but paid a premium just in case. Insurance companies call it “peace of mind”. Then, at the end of the year, they call it “profit” – with compounding interest.
Some policies say if you have an alarm, but don’t turn it on, and your property is stolen, you are not covered. And many policies place a maximum limit on certain types of property that is stolen, like money, jewelry, furs, business property, photography equipment, artwork, and other more “unique” items. Know your policy, and consider purchasing extra insurance for such property, typically called an “inland marine” or “floater” or “personal articles” policy, and which is often relatively inexpensive.
With over 27 years of experience as an insurance adjuster, I understand a simple truth: “People know enough to carry insurance, but don't know enough about the insurance they carry.” That’s why I always recommend people get to know their agents, or get reacquainted. They can be a great help in understanding the insurance you have, or getting a different policy that suits you better. If you don’t have an agent, then it is your responsibility to understand your insurance policy thoroughly – not an easy task.
Whether or not they have an agent, people all too often leave the claim handling to the insurance company, in hopes they will be treated fairly and be paid what they are entitled to under the policy. Many times, though, policyholders are paid only a fraction of what they are owed.
As I remind people over and over, the insurance company adjuster (or the independent adjuster they hire) represents the insurance company. They do not represent you. Only a public adjuster works exclusively for you, the policyholder, to ensure your best interests are served. If you are leaving the insurance claim handling up to the insurance company, you are basically allowing them to decide their own profits. This is rarely a good idea.
What most people don’t know is that insurance is not an exact science and settlements are subject to interpretation and negotiation. How your claim is interpreted and negotiated can greatly affect the amount of money you receive, or how your property will be restored or replaced. Another little-known fact is that insurance claims can be submitted, or reopened, years after the event, or even after the claim was closed or denied.
To prevent delays, denials and deflections by insurance companies in handling your claim, my first and best advice is simple: consult a professional. But, if you decide to handle a claim yourself or reopen one you think deserves a second look, please consider the following ten “commandments”:
1) Don’t try to pull one over on your insurance company – be thorough, but honest.
2) Take note of everything that’s stolen or damaged, and keep a detailed log of all conversations with your insurance company.
3) Take pictures – photograph and/or video it all, and be sure to keep copies separate from the item itself (credit card statements or cancelled checks can help).
4) Show the adjuster all the receipts and damage, and be as thorough as possible.
5) If your home was damaged in the process, remind the adjuster that not all homes are built with the same materials.
6) Review the adjuster’s estimate in detail, until you understand it completely.
7) Request a licensed contractor review the insurance company estimate and provide an independent quote.
8) If the insurance company refuses to pay for anything, demand they explain why – in writing.
10) Seek professional assistance when needed.
When thinking about holiday Grinches, and how you can protect yourself, don’t restrict your material concerns. Be sure you are also mentally prepared. As I always say, the best time to prepare is…now! For everyone at Gold Star Adjusters, Happy Holidays!
Mark Goldwich is president of Gold Star Adjusters, a group of public insurance adjusters dedicated to helping citizens get the maximum settlement for any insurance claim.