Over the past several years, I have warned the public of scammers trying to get their hands on your money using a wide variety of methods.
But one type of scammer who does tremendous damage is not a faceless stranger who contacts you on the internet, by text message or phone call. This threat comes with a friendly, often familiar, face. It’s your friendly, neighborhood life insurance agent.
While the majority of life insurance agents are ethical and upstanding, there are unscrupulous, unethical agents who pose a serious threat to consumers, particularly to seniors.
Fraudulent life agents target seniors because many seniors have accumulated wealth over decades of working and saving — money they plan to use for their retirement or to pass on to their beloved heirs.
Life insurance agents looking to make a quick buck scam the public in a variety of ways, including but not limited to the following:
• Misrepresentation of terms
• Premium theft
• Forgery/identity theft
• Ponzi schemes
The magnitude of the problem posed by bad actor life insurance agents is better understood when one realizes that life insurance policies include not only the commonly understood policies with a death benefit, but also the countless annuity policies that are offered by insurance companies as a low-risk investment that provides an income stream to the policyholder.
The financial risk posed by unscrupulous life insurance agents does not disappear once the agent retires. Former life agents often have lengthy lists of clients they have accumulated over the years of working in the industry.
Sometimes unscrupulous agents solicit previous insurance clients for risky private investments that are not offered by an established insurance company, nor regulated and not insured.
Anyone considering investing in life insurance products should remember the suggestions below to minimize the risk of being scammed by unethical life insurance agents.
• Contact the California Department of Insurance to check an agent’s insurance license history for previous complaints or discipline,
• Never give your premium to the agent. Mail it to the insurance company instead.
• Get and retain copies of all relevant documents, applications, policies, etc.
• Consider not buying a policy the day it was pitched to you by the agent. Take time to evaluate it.
• Be suspicious of any “private” or “special” investment opportunity that’s not produced by an established insurance company.
Thankfully, there is a resource available to consumers in San Diego who have been victimized by life insurance agents or former agents.
The Life and Annuity Consumer Protection Program provides funding for the investigation and prosecution of unethical life insurance agents.
The San Diego District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted many cases under the program, and defendants have received lengthy prison sentences. In addition, we have seized and sold defendants’ properties and returned well over $1 million to victims as restitution.
I’m committed to increasing communication and accessibility between the DA’s Office and the public in order to keep you safe. I hope these consumer and public safety tips have been helpful.
Summer Stephan is District Attorney of San Diego County.