In an effort to help insureds avoid falling victim to scams and abuse, as well as to speed up the claims process, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is urging its policyholders to “Call Citizens First” as they recover from Hurricane Sally.
The storm hit the Gulf Coast on Wednesday as a powerful Category 2 storm. It hovered over Alabama and the Florida Panhandle, inundating some areas with more than two feet (60 cm) of rain. Pensacola, Florida, east of the storm’s landfall, experienced up to 5 feet (1.5 m) of flooding.
According to a statement from Citizens, representatives are available 24/7 to handle claims calls at 1.866.411.2742. More information can be found in the Claims section of the Citizens website.
For flood-related claims, individuals with flood insurance policies through FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) should also reach out to their insurance agents for more information about filing a claim. Consumers may also reach FEMA directly at 1.800.621.3362
“Citizens is ready to assist our policyholders as they recover from Hurricane Sally,” said Barry Gilway, Citizens president/CEO and executive director. “Our claims representatives are ready to help. All you have to do is call.”
The insurer said policyholders should be wary of unscrupulous contractors and repair companies that “thrive in the frenzied days following any storm. Policyholders must be wary of unlicensed contractors or deals that sound too good to be true. ”
Policyholders who have experienced a loss should Call Citizens First to ensure they stay in control of their claim. Further, Citizens advises policyholders not to sign anything, including an assignment of benefits, before consulting with Citizens or their insurance agent.
Citizens said policyholders are most likely to be offered an assignment of benefits (AOB) while making emergency repairs or when companies come to the door soliciting business. Policyholders may be told repairs cannot be completed until they have signed an AOB contract, which allows the company to submit the claim and deal directly with Citizens.
Citizens first launched the Call Citizens First educational initiative in 2016 in an attempt to improve customer claims handling while taking steps to combat an increase of fraud and abuse that has since driven up premiums across the state.
Call Citizens First focuses on educating policyholders and agents about contacting Citizens immediately after any type of loss to their property while reminding customers that fraud, abuse and other factors can increase property insurance costs.
The initiative is part of a multi-faced approach Citizens has enacted over the last several years as water loss claims and litigation has risen. After major catastrophes, the chance for fraudulent claims increases. Gilway said recently that prior to the 3-year Hurricane Irma claims deadline the insurer was still receiving 450 to 600 claims per month from the storm.
“The claims that we received, initially started out as being legitimate, solid claims. It’s very, very clear that when it comes to hurricane claims, people want to put the claim in, they want to put it in now because it is very real damage and they need a response to the damage,” Gilway said. “As time goes on, what you find is you’re getting more and more claims that are extremely questionable.”
The insurer also enacted a managed repair program in 2018 that incentivizes policyholders to work with contractors who have been vetted and approved by the insurer.
Anyone can report suspected insurance fraud by calling Citizens Special Investigations Unit toll-free at 1.855.748.9596 or by submitting a report online. Customers also can contact the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services Insurance Consumer Helpline immediately at 1.877.693.5236. Concerns will be referred to insurance fraud investigators.
Source: Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
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