The Amoral Public Adjuster

True Crime of Insurance Fraud Number 32

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Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE presents videos so you can learn how insurance fraud is perpetrated and what is necessary to deter or defeat insurance fraud. This Video Blog of True Crime Stories of Insurance Fraud with the names and places changed to protect the guilty are all based upon investigations conducted by me and fictionalized to create a learning environment for claims personnel, SIU investigators, insurers, police, and lawyers better understand insurance fraud and weapons that can be used to deter or defeat a fraudulent insurance claim.

 Insurance Professionals Must Avoid Temptation to Defraud

Public adjusters, like personal injury lawyers, work on a contingency fee. For a percentage of the recovery, they present claims on behalf of insureds to insurance companies. Like personal injury lawyers, some are honest and some are not. The public adjuster who is the subject of this tale is one of the latter.

This amoral public adjuster profits from the misery and grief of unfortunate people who suffer loss. His car is equipped with a multi-band scanner turned to all of the fire department frequencies. When he hears of a fire on his scanner he drives directly to the scene. He has been known to arrive before the fire engines.

In his briefcase he carries glossy brochures explaining what services he provides and how insurers will take advantage of innocent insureds not represented by amoral public adjusters. While the embers of their house cool, he has the homeowners sign a contingency fee contract promising to take care of all their needs.

Because state law requires that the contract have a seventy-two-hour cancellation clause he does nothing for the first three days, except leave the property owner with blank inventory forms upon which he has instructed them to write a description of every item of property in their house.

Once the seventy-two hours have expired and the contract can no longer be canceled, he calls in contractors and furniture restorers to prepare estimates for the restoration of the house and its contents.

The amoral public adjuster’s success relied on the fact that the company’s adjuster is overworked, underpaid and under-trained. The company adjuster does not have the time to thoroughly investigate each fire loss. He must rely on the honesty of the insured and the contractors bidding on the repair work.

Sometimes Fraud Succeeds

He didn’t have the time, he didn’t have the training, and he didn’t have the support. He talked to the insured on the telephone who told him he was away from the house when the fire happened. The adjuster had a contractor he knew prepare an estimate which he used as the basis of his adjustment. The contractor was introduced to the adjuster by the amoral public adjuster.

The adjuster never saw the dwelling. He trusted his contractor and the amoral public adjuster to do his work for him. The insured got their house fixed and more money than they were entitled to receive. The amoral public adjuster collected 25% of the total payment for a total of five hours work. The contractor, even after paying 15% to the amoral public adjuster, made a profit of 40% and did only the least amount necessary to repair the house rather than the maximum amount specified on the reconstruction estimate.

The fraud was perfect. The perpetrators and the victims alike, were satisfied.

© 2022 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders.

He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business.

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