INSURANCE ACTUARIES: Just How Much Fraud Is There?


Let’s start off with a simple explanation of why fraud costs us all money. Insurance companies employ math-geeks called actuaries. They spend their time estimating how many traffic accidents there are likely to be and how much all the claims will be worth in a year. That total is divided among all the policy holders as the premium. It’s all guesswork but they are good guessers. Except that, when thousands of people make false claims, the insurers suddenly find themselves short of money to pay out. The result? Premium rates go up for all.

How bad is the problem? In New York, the number of suspected cases of fraud has risen by one-third from 2007 through 2009. Across the state, the insurers identified 13,433 probable cases of fraud in 2009 alone. To pay for this, the premium rates rose by an average of 6.3% in 2009. The most common frauds are staging an accident to claim medical expenses. This has caused the average value of each claim to rise to more than double the national average. That’s millions of dollars paid out and millions of dollars that have to replaced in the capital reserves. This problem is not, of course, unique to New York. It has become a well-recognized way of raising cash as the recession has deepened. So, if people find their household budgets under pressure, they can report their vehicle stolen or become the victim in a phantom hit-and-run. Ah, but you are saying all this needs support from attorneys and physicians prepared to push claims knowing or suspecting their clients are faking or exaggerating. Well, let’s keep this real. The FBI and local law enforcement agencies regularly run undercover sting operations to catch the fraudulent. In Philadelphia, for example, a recent operation resulted in long jail terms for an attorney and thirty-four individuals falsely claiming millions based on fake medical evidence. In Santa Clara County, California, the police recently prosecuted more than twenty body shops for supplying false estimates to insurance companies. An undercover officer driving an undamaged Honda Civic explained he had reported the vehicle vandalized to pay for a new paint job. The body shops supplied an estimate under $3,000 — insurance companies do not inspect damage for “small” claims.

The truth is there’s an epidemic of fraud and it’s not only established criminals or those on the fringe of legality like street racers. But, sadly, it’s also becoming a mom-and-pop crime. Why? Because the cost of investigating every claim as possible fraud is too expensive for the insurers. It’s cheaper to pay out all the smaller claims and absorb the losses. This is one of the main reasons why it’s getting harder to find cheap auto insurance. The volume of fraud is driving up the premium rates for everyone. But there’s a secondary problem. Outside California, insurance companies still use zip codes in setting rates. Where the levels of fraud are high in some areas, the rates reflect this. So, those who live in the Bronx and Brooklyn pay more than other parts of New York because there are more fake claims. This does not mean it’s impossible to find cheap car insurance. You just have to work harder, using a site like this, to identify those insurance companies offering good discounts. As another self-help step, you could report all those you know are making false claims. If the police and FBI cannot stem the flood of fraud, it’s up to every law-abiding citizen to step up to the plate. The result will be lower premiums for all.

by: Norris Rios

http://article-niche.com

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Warning: The US Government Mail You Received Might Be a Scam


Warning

This article is a reprint of Wise Bread’s contribution to OPEN Forum from American Express — where small business owners can get advice from experts and share tips with each other.

Con artists are constantly bombarding us with bills that look like official government mail.  It is one of the most effective scams, and there’s a good chance you are already a victim.

“33% of all businesses that receive bills in the mail for products or services they never asked for actually pay the bills,” said Robert Siciliano, an identity theft expert and author of The Safety Minute.

Fake bills are especially convincing when disguised as government mail.  For example, here’s a picture of a fraudulent letter I received from the “Business Filing Division”

Fake Business Filling Bill Form

It looks just like a real California state form.  Using official language and citations to actual law, the letter warns that my business will be suspended if I didn’t pay $239 to update my company’s information with the state of California.  (California does require businesses to periodically update their information, but it only costs $20, not $239.)

After almost falling for this scam, I reached out to experts and other victims of government mailing scams to learn more about how it works.  Here’s a list of their best advice on:

I.  8 ways to spot this scam

Most of these fake government letters share the following tricky features:

1.  Everything looks official

These fake letters have official-looking seals, quote real regulations, and contain government forms that look like the real thing.

The words “Office Use Only” are prominently displayed on the top.  This is a sneaky attempt to mimic the words “Official Use Only.” – Harif87 (http://www.scam.com/member.php?u=136786), Scam.com.

“I’m a designer, and so I can usually spot the difference right away between a real government document and a spurious one.  But often times they’re very close!  I have a grudging respect for how well these sales letters are designed to look like government notices.”  – Matt Kirkland, Brand New Box.

2.  They have your correct information

Just because they have your correct information doesn’t mean the letter is legitimate.  A lot of your professional and personal information are part of the public record.  It is easy for scammers to pick info from online databases and go to work.  – Alexis A. Moore, Survivors in Action.

“Since your state filings are public records, they time the mailings to coincide with your corporation’s actual renewal dates.”  – Kate Lister, author of Undress For Success.

3.  Offering a semi-legitimate service

“Some of these companies offer a legitimate service that is actually required by State Law.  However, they do not offer this service in a forthright manner.”  – Lisa Nguyen esq, Proviso Law Group.

4.  Sneaky disclaimers

“The mailings generally contain disclaimers required by law, such as ‘This is not an invoice.’  However they can still be deceptive if prepared in a format similar to a state document such as an annual report.”  – John Meyer, Company Corporation.

Even when disclaimers are attached, they are sometimes printed in small gray letters, hidden among a sea of legal jargon, or printed on parts of the letter that is likely to be discarded.  –  Issamar Ginzberg, Entrepreneur of the Year.

5.  Prey on your fear of government and obedience to authority

“The letter language didn’t feel right.  It was vague and stressed a deadline.  It preyed on a fear that one is delinquent on a government related fee.” –  Blaine Ung, co-founder of WebinarHero.

“I got accustomed to writing checks to the government in order to get the LLC set up.  Just when I thought that the numerous fees were done with, I got a letter in the mail exactly as you described.  I was furious that I was going to have to pay $325 each year as another cost of doing business.” – Taylor Brown, lead software architect for YouNeedABudget.

6.  Targeting the most vulnerable people

“What makes this insidious is that they are preying on new business owners who are probably excited to get their business off the ground, almost at any cost.”  – Russ Hearl, co-founder of Sherpa Travel Exchange.

7.  Deceptive addresses

They are set up in virtual office parks located in prestigious business buildings. The addresses are in the state capital to avoid raising red flags. – Christine Durst, co-author of The 2-Second Commute.

8.  Official sounding names

They use important names like “Corporate Compliance Filings,” “Board of Business Center,” “Annual Filing Division,” “Business Filing Division,” “Compliance Annual Minutes Board,” “Federal Clearing House,” “Department of Business Minutes,” “Department of Business Compliance,” etc.

II.  7 most effective ways to protect yourself

1.  Google the phone number and payment address

“I did a Google search of the phone number to see if it led to a government Website; instead I found numerous postings that the number I searched belongs to an organization that scams business owners out of money. Thank goodness for these public forums and for the folks that take the time to post in them.”  – Caroline Callaway, Bolt Public Relations.

2.  Look for official consumer alerts

Check your state’s official website for consumer alerts.  Most likely your scam has already been reported (see official state websites for all 50 states).  – Nicole Winger, spokesperson for CA Secretary of State.

3.  Your accountant or lawyer may help for free

“I never charge clients for asking questions.  I thank them and make them feel good for bringing it to my attention before taking action so that they feel good about contacting me whenever another similar question comes up.” – Michael T. Hanley, CPA at Merl & Hanley.

“Generally, I don’t charge my client for looking at a document like this if they hired me to set up the LLC or Corporation.”  – Lisa Nguyen esq, Proviso Law Group.

4.  Set reminders in accounting or calendaring software

Enter your schedule of required government payments into your accounting software.  By setting up reminders in advance, you can quickly verify whether you are late for a payment.  – Dawn Tulman, ToiBocks.

If you have made payments to the real government agency in the past, the agency’s mailing information should already be in your accounting software’s database.  The fact that you have to create a new payee profile for this new “bill” should raise red flags.  – Rick Smith, Chefs Resource.

5.  Create an official “accounts payable list”

“We have an official Accounts Payable list.  Anything not on that list is required to be forwarded to me (president of the company) for review.” – Ken Wisnefski, Webimax.

6.  Use a legitimate third-party service

I registered my LLC through the Company Corporation.  My service package gives me unlimited access to their toll-free customer service hotline.  When I asked about the dubious letter I received, they immediately identified it as a scam.  Their website also has a helpful scam alert section.

Several other companies provide legitimate incorporation and business registration services.  For example, Denise LaBuda, founder of Money Wizdom, also got excellent help from Mycorporation.com when she received the same fake government solicitation.

7.  Join a community

Don’t reinvent the wheel.  Other business owners have received the same scam letters and have already done the research.  Joining communities like the Rotary Club, your local Chamber of Commerce, blog communities, or online business forums give you access to a large reservoir of collective experiences.

Membership in these communities can also open many doors.  When I did research on this scam, I identified myself as a contributor to the American Express Open Forum and Wise Bread community.  I received a torrent of responses, including immediate follow-ups from the California Secretary of State and the IRS.

III.  Getting help after you’ve been scammed

Should you contact law enforcement?

“Depending on how savvy the scammers are, it may be difficult for law enforcement to tackle from a resource perspective.  While there are a number of state and federal rules and regulations that can be called into play, the reality is that most won’t have much of an effect since the potential for enforcement is so low.”  – Edi Goodman, chief privacy officer of Identity Theft 911.

On the other hand, California’s Attorney General has been actively prosecuting these rip-off artists. When in doubt, it is probably best to make a report.

Organizations that help

There are non-profit victim advocacy groups that can help you file complaints.  “Reporting crime and knowing what to look for in a scam is difficult.  We have volunteers eager to assist anyone who is in need at no charge.”  – Alexis A. Moore, Survivors in Action.

Contact your credit card company

If you paid by check or money transfer you can probably kiss that money goodbye.  However, if you paid by credit or charge card, you may be able to dispute the charges. – Shawn Mosch, Co-founder of ScamVictimsUnited.

IV. The many variations of this scam

These government solicitation scams often target the following groups:

  • Business owners: Notice offers to update your company information, file your corporate minutes, renew your business registration, or help with other record-keeping requirements.
  • Taxpayers:  Scammer tempts you with a fake tax refund or scares you with a delinquency notice.
  • Property owners:  Letter tells you that you’re eligible for lower property taxes if you submitted to an official reassessment of your property’s value.
  • Licensed professionals such as realtors, cosmetologists, brokers:  You get a bill for renewing your license, along with a stern warning that failure to pay will result in revocation of your license.
  • Employers:  Letter tries to sell you employment posters required for the workplace.  Usually these posters can be downloaded for free from official government websites.

V.  Why this scam is so dangerous

Beyond monetary loss, there are many other reasons why you should worry about these scams.

Marked as a mark

If you respond to one letter, you might be marked as an “easy target” and receive additional – and perhaps more dangerous – solicitations in the future.

They might be after your identity

“The scammers are often looking for personal data as well as bogus fees.  They’ll use the info for ‘true ID’ thefts, which means setting up credit accounts in your name and making other mischief.” – James Walsh, editor of Scams & Swindles: How to Recognize and Avoid Internet Era Rip-offs.

You miss a real government deadline

Some of these scams “help” you fulfill a real government requirement at an extremely inflated price.  But just because they are charging you a high fee is no guarantee that they will do a good job.

In one recent California case, a company charged victims $175 to help them file corporate records.  However, the company didn’t bother asking the victims for the right information, and instead filed fictitious corporate records on the victims’ behalf.

VI.  Official state websites for registering or incorporating your business

Before you pay another “bill” from the government, check your state’s official website for the real requirements and deadlines:

Alabama
Alaska
Arizona
Arkansas
California
Colorado
Connecticut
Delaware
District of Columbia
Florida
Georgia
Guam
Hawaii
Idaho
Illinois
Indiana
Iowa
Kansas
Kentucky
Louisiana
Maine
Maryland
Massachusetts
Michigan
Minnesota
Mississippi
Missouri
Montana
Nebraska
Nevada
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Ohio
Oklahoma
Oregon
Pennsylvania
Puerto Rico
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
Tennessee
Texas
U.S. Virgin Islands
Utah
Vermont
Virginia
Washington
West Virginia
Wisconsin
Wyoming

If you have received these fraudulent letters in the past, please share your experiences in the comments.  Search engines will pick up your story and make it easier for other people to identify these scams.

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Inadequate bosses ‘turn into bullies’


Bosses who feel inadequate are more likely to bully subordinates, says a new study

Inadequate bosses ‘turn into bullies’

Inadequate bosses ‘turn into bullies’

Published in the journal Psychological Science , the study says it is so because feelings of inadequacy trigger them to lash out at those around them.

In the study, researchers at University of California, Berkeley and University of Southern California found a direct link among supervisors and upper management between self-perceived incompetence and aggression.

The findings are published in the November issue of the journal Psychological Science .

The new study challenges previous assumptions that abusive bosses are solely driven by ambition and the need to hold onto their power.

“By showing when and why power leads to aggression, these findings are highly relevant as abusive supervision is such a pervasive problem in society,” said Nathanael Fast, assistant professor of management and organization at USC and lead author of the study.

During role-playing sessions, study participants who felt their egos were under threat would go so far as to needlessly sabotage an underling’s chances of winning money. In another test, participants who felt inadequate would request that a subordinate who gave a wrong answer to a test be notified by a loud obnoxious horn, even though they had the option of choosing silence or a quiet sound.

Researchers did not rate participants by an objective measure of competency, but by their self-reported level of competency. This allowed them to investigate how feelings of self-worth are tied to workplace behavior.

“Incompetence alone doesn’t lead to aggression,” said Serena Chen, associate professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and co-author of the study.

“It’s the combination of having a high-power role and fearing that one is not up to the task that causes power holders to lash out. And our data suggest it’s ultimately about self-worth,” the expert added.

Alternately, Chen said, participants who got ego boosts by scoring high in a leadership aptitude test or who recalled an incident or principle that made them feel good about themselves did not react with aggression.

Exposing click fraud – The Anatomy of Online Scam


Internet marketers facing higher advertising fees on search networks are becoming increasingly concerned about a form of online fraud that was thought to have been contained years ago.

The practice, known as “click fraud,” began in the early days of the Internet’s mainstream popularity with programs that automatically surfed Web sites to increase traffic figures. This led companies to develop policing technologies touted as antidotes to the problem. But some marketing executives estimate that up to 20 percent of fees in certain advertising categories continue to be based on nonexistent consumers in today’s search industry.

News context:

What’s new:
Net marketers facing higher ad fees are becoming increasingly worried about an online practice known as “click fraud.”Bottom line:
The persistence of click fraud has exposed a fundamental weakness in the promising business of Internet search marketing, but most advertisers aren’t sure how to address the problem.

In one recent example of the problem, law enforcement officials say a California man created a software program that he claimed could let spammers bilk Google out of millions of dollars in fraudulent clicks. Authorities said he was arrested while trying to blackmail Google for $150,000 to hand over the program. He was indicted by a California jury in June.

Matt Parrella, chief of the San Jose branch of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Northern California, said that case was “not unique.” The problem “is certainly not shrinking, and we’re ready to prosecute people,” said Parrella, whose office handled the Google case.

Click fraud is perpetrated in both automated and human ways. The most common method is the use of online robots, or “bots,” programmed to click on advertisers’ links that are displayed on Web sites or listed in search queries. A growing alternative employs low-cost workers who are hired in China, India and other countries to click on text links and other ads. A third form of fraud takes place when employees of companies click on rivals’ ads to deplete their marketing budgets and skew search results.

Although the extent of click fraud is impossible to measure with any certainty, its persistence has exposed a fundamental weakness in the promising business of Internet search marketing. Google’s pending initial public offering has been widely anticipated as a barometer of online advertising and the post-apocalyptic dot-com climate in general.

“It’s hard to tell how big the problem is, but people are looking at it closer and closer as the cost of search advertising goes up,” said John Squire, vice president of business development of Coremetrics, a Web analytics firm. “Click fraud is a fin sticking out of the water: You’re not sure if it’s a great white shark or a dolphin.”

Unlike advertising in traditional media such as billboards and print publications, “cost per click” Internet ads displayed with specific keyword searches have been promoted as a definitive way for companies to gauge their exposure to potential customers. As a result, U.S. sales from advertiser-paid search results are expected to grow 25 percent this year to $3.2 billion, up from $2.5 billion in 2003, according to research firm eMarketer. From 2002 to 2003, the market rose by 175 percent.

As more advertisers have competed for desirable keywords in their industries, the cost for clicks has risen too. On average, advertisers are paying 45 cents per click this year, according to financial analysts, up from 40 cents in 2003 and 30 cents in the second quarter of 2002. In certain sectors, such as travel, legal advice and gaming, the cost can reach several dollars per click.

But marketing executives say click fraud is pervasive among affiliates of search leaders Google, Yahoo-owned Overture Services and FindWhat.com. In a typical affiliation, any Web publisher can become a partner of these large networks by displaying their paid links on a Web page or within its own search results and then share in the profits with every click.

“There’s a fatal flaw in the cost-per-click model because a ton of marketing dollars can be depleted in a fraction of a second,” said Jessie Stricchiola, president of Alchemist Media, a search-engine marketing firm based in Los Angeles that specializes in fraud protection. “Technology is continuing to be developed that can exploit this pricing model at incredibly high volumes.”

Google’s fraud squad
Google declined an interview for this report, citing the mandatory “quiet period” before its initial public offering, which is expected to raise $2.7 billion. But the company said in a statement that it has been “the target of individuals and entities using some of the most advanced spam techniques for years. We have applied what we have learned with search to the click fraud problem and employ a dedicated team and proprietary technology to analyze clicks.”

In recent documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company also acknowledged the problem as a threat to its revenue, of which 95 percent is derived from advertising. Google and other search networks provide refunds to advertisers when click fraud has been discovered.

The Anatomy of Online Clicks Scam

“If we are unable to stop this fraudulent activity, these refunds may increase,” Google said in its SEC filing. “If we find new evidence of past fraudulent clicks we may have to issue refunds retroactively of amounts previously paid to our Google Network members.”

Google and Overture employ “fraud squads,” or teams of people dedicated to fighting click schemes. But at least two marketing executives say such countermeasures are missing fraudulent clicks that are responsible for between 5 percent and 20 percent of advertising fees paid to all search networks.

Overture spokeswoman Jennifer Stephens refutes that estimate, saying that the numbers likely represent acts of fraud that are ultimately caught. She added that Overture filters most fraudulent clicks with the best antifraud system in the industry, which combines technology and human analysis.

“We take this very seriously; it’s the foundation of what we do,” Stephens said. “If an advertiser has a question about it, we look into all matters.”

Cost-per-click advertising comes in many forms, but it essentially lets marketers gain exposure on a Web site and pay only when people click on their ads. Google and Overture let advertisers bid for placement of paid links, which appear when certain keyword searches are conducted on the networks’ sites or those of third parties that partner with them. Keyword ads can also be distributed according to the content of partners’ sites and displayed on non-search pages. (CNET Networks, which publishes News.com, partners with Google for shared advertising revenue.)

Most advertisers are aware of the click-fraud issue but have not delved into it because of the technical complexities involved. Others are concerned that they could jeopardize their relationships with the powerful search networks if they complain too loudly.

“It is a bigger problem, but folks just don’t want to take the time to track it down because it’s a complex problem,” Coremetrics’ Squire said. Given that some of the largest marketers manage up to 1 million keywords in a campaign, he added, the data can be difficult to crunch.

Danny Sullivan, who runs a quarterly search-industry conference, said many advertisers do not raise their concerns with the ad networks because “they’re afraid that if they complain, it will hurt their free listings.”

Still, more fraud-detection technologies are emerging to help advertisers analyze their campaigns and traffic. Some advertisers and search-engine marketing companies say they are compiling lists of sites that generate a high number of clicks but not sales.

Coremetrics, Urchin and Whosclickingwho.com are just a few that sell technology to examine click rates and sales that result from paid searches. Alchemist Media, which charges flat fees for its consulting services, has detected fraud while acting as an intermediary between search networks and marketers.

In general, Alchemist’s Stricchiola estimates that 10 percent of all search ad clicks could be fraudulent. But she said the rate can reach 20 percent in particular businesses that have been targeted for click fraud.

Roy de Souza, CEO of advertising technology firm Zedo, said his company’s geotracking systems have traced Internet Protocol addresses to detect click operations in China. In describing one common scheme, he said a legitimate site is duplicated under another name, complete with text ads from a search network. A bot would then be trained to click on the ad links that appear on the bogus site, said de Souza, who estimated that click fraud affects 10 percent to 20 percent of today’s search network ads.

Many policing technologies can counter click fraud by analyzing Web traffic logs or surfing behavior. If a page is turned every 1.8 seconds over a period of time, for example, fraud-detecting systems will flag the traffic as suspiciously uniform.

Covert clicks
Human operations can be more difficult to detect because a wide network of people can click on ads from different computers across many regions, without a steady pattern. According to a report in the India Times, residents are being hired to click paid links from home, with the hopes of making between $100 to $200 per month.

In other instances, the source of bogus clicks can be much closer to home.

Joe, the chief executive of an Internet marketing company, enjoys clicking on his rivals’ text ads on Google and Yahoo because his competitor must pay as much as $15 each time he does it. Eventually, such phantom clicks can add up and drain a rival’s budget.

“It’s an entertainment,” said the executive, who asked to keep his name and company anonymous. “Why do you run into a store without dropping a quarter in the meter? You know it’s wrong, but you do it.”

Kevin Lee, chief executive of search marketing firm Did-It, estimates that fraud from such “drive-by” competitive clicks and affiliate scams makes up about 5 percent of the industry’s total sales. Lee concedes that he can only guess at the number, but he does know one thing for sure:

If it gets much higher, he said, “then we should all be getting worried.”

By Stefanie Olsen
Staff Writer, CNET News

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