Date: August 14, 2009
For more information contact: Jim Guidry, (608) 264-6239 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Consumers Should Use Caution When Purchasing Insurance Online
Madison, WIMore often than not, today's insurance transaction can start with an online quote that used to begin with a visit or telephone call to an agency. Insurance Commissioner Sean Dilweg reminds consumers to be aware of ways they can find out if a company is reputable.
"The Office of the Commissioner of Insurance is one place that consumers can get information to avoid insurance scams," said Dilweg. "OCI can tell you if the company you are considering is licensed and if there have been any actions against the company that you should be concerned about."
Many consumers are most familiar with commercials that direct you to Web sites that will give you insurance quotes. Auto insurers and a growing number of homeowner's insurance companies are making internet insurance buying options available to potential customers. Additionally, insurers and agents may send a flyer in the mail encouraging you to sign up for insurance by visiting a particular Web site.
Medicare Advantage plans also do a tremendous amount of marketing over the internet. These plans are very complicated plans and can leave many seniors scratching their heads trying to figure out which plan is right for them.
One particular area of concern for OCI is the loss of employer-sponsored health insurance due to job loss. While COBRA continuation is generally available, this coverage can be quite expensive at a time when every dollar of family income is hard to come by. Consumers may be tempted by internet ads that advertise cheap health insurance. Insurance consumers need to carefully evaluate online offers that appear to be insurance. Many companies that promise cheap insurance are actually selling "discount plans." A discount plan is not insurance but a plan where you pay a membership or enrollment fee up front to obtain access to networks of health care providers who have agreed to offer discounts for their services. Discount plans are not insurance and they are not regulated by OCI.
To determine if an insurance plan is reputable and trustworthy, keep the following tips in mind:
- Find the name of the insurance company or companies involved in the plan. Be leery if there is no name or if you don't recognize the name as a legitimate insurance company or agency.
- Licensed insurance companies will usually display their logo and name prominently.
- If you cannot find who the insurer is, call the company and ask what state they are licensed in.
- Check with OCI to see if the company is licensed or not in Wisconsin. OCI can be reached at 800-236-8517 or oci.wi.gov.
- Be careful when giving out your personal information. A licensed insurance company should give you information about their plan up front without requiring any personal information like credit card numbers.
- Make sure transactions which include personal data are only performed on pages that are "secure." To find out more about the definition of a "secure" Web page please see the article titled "Understanding Web Site Certificates" (http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/tips/).
- Be suspicious of plans that seem very inexpensive and too good to be true; they usually are.
Almost every insurance company has a Web site. Because of this, it is important for consumers to recognize when they are dealing with a real insurance agent and when they are dealing with a discount plan. The internet offers ample opportunities for consumers to research companies and agencies that they are interested in. OCI recommends that consumers take the time to ask questions.
Created by the Legislature in 1871, Wisconsin's Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) was vested with broad powers to ensure that the insurance industry responsibly and adequately met the insurance needs of Wisconsin citizens. Today, OCI's mission is to lead the way in informing and protecting the public and responding to its insurance needs.