CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. - You have insurance to protect yourself if the worst happens. But what happens if your insurance company suspects you of bilking the system? A WINK News Call for Action investigation reveals more people are being turned over and investigated for insurance fraud. We found out what that means, for you.
Billy Cissell thought insurance would take care of the vandalism done to his car. One year later, he's been through a criminal investigation and still hasn't had his car repaired.
"There's chemicals of some sort- whatever it is you can see turned the carpet white. They cut the airbag here," Cissell pointed out.
Vandals touched nearly every part of his Mercedes.
"They cut everything from the front to the back all the way through it," he showed us.
But Billy has waited more than a year to get his car repaired because his insurance company suspected he did it.
"I am totally under the microscope. I was under the microscope from day one. In no shape or form did anyone come to me and say. 'Mr. Cissell, it looks like someone really did a number on your car we're going to do some investigating; and we're going to see if we can get to the bottom of it.' It was you you you- period- straight up," Billy told WINK.
The insurance company turned their suspicions over to an investigator with the Florida Division of Insurance Fraud.
"And I called him back in two weeks and he said it doesn't warrant any investigation... so he said the case was closed," said Billy.
Lieutenant J.D. Salome with the Division of Insurance Fraud says his office investigates fraud to keep your premiums low.
"We need insurance whether it be our home, life, automobile insurance, these are necessities by law. The more fraud you have the more you're going to pay for that product," Lieutenant Salome explained.
WINK News obtained the numbers that show since the downturn in the economy, his office has received more tips about suspected fraud.
In 2007, the Division of Insurance Fraud received more than 7300 tips. That grew to more than 10,000 this year. But more people are under investigation than ever before, thanks to a change in the office's procedure.
"The end result is it has grown the number of cases we have to review and the number of cases we have to assign to detectives," said Salome.
In fact, last year the office opened just under 1600 cases. This year, they changed how they open investigations and opened 9200 cases.
"I have to review every single one of them. Some of them won't proceed any further. Some have to be closed. Some of them have enough solvability factors there is something to do with them; but sometimes they'll have to wait because I only have five detectives in this office. And you may have 200 cases in your queue," explained Salome.
As investigators like Salome work to hold criminals responsible, people who are cleared, like Billy, are left wondering what to do.
"Stuck with a car no way to get it fixed. Unless they told me I could get it fixed and save the receipts, I may get paid for it, I may not," Billy said.
Chief Investigator Melissa Yeager called Billy's insurance company, GEICO, and asked them why they hadn't paid Billy's claim after he was cleared. After our calls, GEICO finally settled Billy's claim. He is now in the process of getting his car repaired.