Insurance Companies Using Social Media To Catch Fraud

10:15 PM, Oct 6, 2011   |    comments
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WASHINGTON, DC (WUSA)--Kurt Norland never dreamed photos he posted on his Facebook page would create huge problems.  The pictures show him drinking a beer and relaxing with his pals at the beach.

Who would have guessed investigators from the insurance company paying his worker's comp benefits were watching his Facebook account

Soon after the photos were posted, the insurance company cancelled his payments, cut off his medical benefits and Kurt had to delay surgery to repair torn cartilage in his shoulder.

"I was extremely surprised they could just go on your Facebook and pull these pictures out," says Norland.

More and more insurance companies are social media mining.  Depending on your privacy settings, they could see every Tweet, Facebook photo or MySpace update.

If insurance investigators think you're dabbling in risky business you could pay higher premiums.  If, as in Norland's case, they think you're faking an injury, you could face coverage cancellation. 

Norland's attorney, Gary Massey, says social media mining is now becoming standard practice in the insurance industry.  "If they find anything that's embarrassing or anything they can use to paint you in a bad light that's when it shows up in the case."

The Insurance Information Institute says absolutely some companies monitor people's social media pages.  Mostly to find potential fraud--which makes everyone's premiums more expensive.

"Insurance fraud costs the insurance industry and consumers about $30-million each year," says Jeanne Salvatore with the Insurance Information Institute.

Eliminating fraud is private investigator Steve Davis' specialty.  When he's hired by insurance companies to root out suspicious claims the first place he now checks:  social media accounts.  And he says he's struck gold many times.

"If you're going to claim that you have a severe injury and you post pictures of you doing something crazy then shame on you!" says Davis.  "You shouldn't have those pictures on there and shame on you for committing insurance fraud."

The insurance industry says it will continue to watch and if you've got nothing to hide you've got nothing to worry about.  "If you are an honest person this will not affect you at all," says Salvatore.

Norland says he was honest and medical records prove his on the job shoulder injury is legit.  His attorney had to fight the insurance company over the posted pictures before a labor board, and won. 

But Kurt warns, "You have to be real careful."

Experts say if you aren't careful with your privacy settings people who are not your Facebook friends can see photos you've posted, updates you've given. even places you've "checked in."

For tips on how to change your privacy settings go to this website.

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