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Survey says some Americans condone insurance fraud

Are you paying more for insurance because someone, somewhere, committed fraud? According to a just-released survey by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), a surprising number of Americans agree that it is "all right" to increase an insurance claim in order to recoup a deductible. Twenty-four percent of the 1,000 people surveyed say claim inflation is an acceptable way to make up for premiums paid.

Claim inflation may seem like a harmless crime.

Claim inflation may seem to be a harmless crime. For instance, a homeowner filing a legitimate claim for a storm-flooded basement might tack on costs to repair another part of the house that he otherwise couldn't afford to fix. Or, an auto accident victim, filing an injury claim, might include medical problems that existed prior to the accident.

Also known as "claims padding," claim inflation is considered insurance fraud, which the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) estimates can add $300 per year to your insurance premiums.

Claims padding is insurance fraud.

The IRC's survey, titled Public Attitude Monitor 2000, shows that acceptance of claims padding is down from a 1997 survey, when a whopping 40 percent of Americans agreed that it was fine to inflate a claim to recoup part of the deductible. Also in 1997, 36 percent agreed with the notion of padding a claim to replace money paid in premiums.

Although the February 2000 survey shows those numbers decreasing somewhat, the percentage of those approving claim padding is higher than in years prior to 1997.

Age is apparently a factor: 51 percent of respondents between 18 and 29 say that claims padding to make up for a deductible is acceptable. That percentage decreases as age groups progress. Thirty-nine percent of those in their 30s, and only 24 percent of those over 60, sanction claims padding.

Income also may determine attitudes toward claims padding. Among respondents with less than $30,000 in household income, 45 percent agree with claims padding to offset deductible costs. However, only 29 percent with household incomes greater than $75,000 concurred.

Needless to say, claims padding is an annoyance to insurers, because it detracts from the bottom line. A 1996 Conning study revealed industry-wide losses of $160 billion due to fraud.

"Insurers have been making significant efforts to fight fraud," says Elizabeth Sprinkel, senior vice president at IRC. "While we have seen some improvement in recent years, it is still disappointing that so many Americans still see this type of insurance fraud as acceptable."

Why commit fraud? A 1999 study by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud (CAIF) found three common reasons: To save money, to pay for otherwise unaffordable work on a house or car, and to strike back against perceived unfairness by insurers.

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