A Schuyler woman who owned two insurance firms with offices in Charlottesville, was recently convicted of selling fake insurance policies. It is a case that begs the question - how do you know if you're getting scammed?
Mae Anne Fattaleh, 40, pleaded guilty in April in Charlottesville Circuit Court to obtaining money by false pretense. She was sentenced to 23 years in prison with all but 25 months suspended. Fattaleh must also pay more than $100,000 in restitution.
Virginia State Police arrested Fattaleh in 2009 after the bureau of insurance notified the agency that she was selling nonexistent insurance policies. Police say Fattaleh was arrested again in 2011 while out on bond on insurance fraud-related charges. Those charges were dismissed when she pleaded guilty in the 2009 case.
So, how do you know if you're getting scammed? The bad news is that there are several ways that you can get scammed when it comes to buying insurance. But the good news, there are plenty of red flags, and ways to avoid being cheated, if you know what to look for.
Insurance agent Sarah Rosas Morales says many times people think insurance fraud is overt, such as someone filing a false claim. However, that's not always the case, sometimes insurance fraud is subtle.
"There are companies out there who pose as companies where people can go and [say] ‘We'll give you this really low rate, and it'll be really even cheaper if you set it up with an automatic draft with your bank account,'" she stated.
But these companies can be completely fraudulent. The Virginia State Police insurance fraud department says over a thousand people report insurance fraud to them each year.
There are a few things you should know to avoid being duped - first, check your agent's license. "Every state doesn't require licenses, every state is different, but here in Virginia a license is required so they can ask at any time to take a look at their license," said Morales.
Also, make sure you get an ID card. "Whether you're doing it online, or whether you're doing it over the phone, if you have an email, if you have a way to be able to get an ID card or get your policy, you should be able to have that accessible to you immediately," she explained.
And most importantly, if you feel you're a victim of fraud, don't hesitate to do something about it. The first step is to contact the state insurance bureau.
Another thing Morales said is, once you buy your insurance, and it's legitimate; make sure you actually know what's being covered. Read the policy and talk to your agent, because even if you have a real policy, it might not cover everything you think it does.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.