Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Insurance company claims representative pleads guilty to fraud on her own car

A Puyallup woman has pleaded guilty to attempted forgery and attempted insurance fraud after submitting a bogus receipt for a $1,609 windshield repair to her insurance company.

Candice Leigh Chapman, 31, was sentenced last week to 45 hours of community service and a deferred sentence.

In June of 2010, Chapman filed a claim saying that she'd had a damaged windshield replaced in her Volkswagen Touareg and had paid for the repair herself. She emailed a copy of a quote from a Seattle auto glass company, with "paid" stamped on the  bottom.

But when her insurer, Farmers, called the glass shop to confirm the bill, the shop said it had never repaired or replaced the windshield. Nor do they use a "paid" stamp. At that point, Farmers turned the investigation over to the state insurance commissioner's Special Investigations Unit.

The unusual wrinkle in this case is what Chapman did for a living: She was an insurance company claims representative at a different insurance company. And her primary job responsibility was handling auto glass claims.

Flood awareness week: How to spot a flood-damaged car

In honor of National Flood Safety Awareness Week, here are some pointers on spotting a flood-damaged car:

-Smell. Particularly here in the rainy Pacific Northwest, it's very hard to dry out a flooded car quickly enough to prevent mold and mildew in the carpets, padding below the carpets, and the upholstery.

-Moisture in odd places inside the car. For example, look for moisture or condensation behind the gauges on the dashboard, a clock, and the display panel of a stereo. (Note: It's fairly common in the Northwest to see water or condensation in exterior lights, like taillights, turn signal lights, etc. in older vehicles. That's not necessarily a sign of flooding. Rain may have just seeped in through the gaskets that are supposed to seal the lights.)

-Check the car's unique Vehicle Identification Number to see if it has been reported as a salvage vehicle. These numbers are typically found on a small metal plate visible through the front windshield at the front of the dashboard. The National Insurance Crime Bureau runs a website where you can check VIN numbers -- up to 5 a day -- for free. (Hint: it's case-sensitive.)

-Dampness, mold, silt, mud or rust in low spots on the vehicle, such as under the spare tire in the trunk, the interior crevices of the trunk behind the wheels or in the glove compartment.

-Interior rust, such as springs under the seats.

-Check the car's oil. Engine oil contaminated with water will often look like chocolate milk.