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When filing insurance claims, missteps can cost you

When it comes to insurance, what you don’t do can be just as important as what you do. Wrong moves when filing a claim, or saying the wrong thing, can cost you. To see what insurers know about your claims history, get a C.L.U.E., your free annual auto and personal property claims reports by the Comprehensive Loss Underwriting Exchange at ChoiceTrust.com. And when it comes to auto and home claims, don’t:

Play auto mechanic
After a car accident, don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s a fender-bender. Drivers involved in accidents often see small dents and scratches and decide damage is minor. But major structural damage, such as a cracked axle, might be hidden. Get the name, address, driver’s license number and insurance identification number of all those involved in case you need to make a claim. Otherwise, you will have to file a claim on your own policy if you have collision coverage. “Of course, you want to avoid claims, if possible, so that you don’t see a car-insurance rate increase in the future,” said Amy Denise, senior managing editor for Insure.com.

Be embarrassed
Be aggressive about documenting the accident scene. Keep a disposable camera in the glove box or use your cell phone camera to snap picture of damage. And request a copy of the police report. “Don’t feel like you’re overreacting. You never know what that other person will say about the accident afterward or what car problems will come to light,” Denise said.

Apologize
Resist the urge to apologize or admit fault at the scene. Fault often determines liability, which can lead to claims against your insurance policy and higher premiums.

Buy roadside assistance from your insurer
Roadside assistance from AAA or a similar group is fine. But when you get it from your insurance company, using it might count as a claim, which can lead to higher premiums.

Hire a tow truck that just shows up
Some tow-truck drivers listen to police scanners and circle accident scenes hoping you will hire them. But they might be unlicensed or exorbitantly expensive, Denise said. And don’t call your insurance agent if you won’t make a claim. The agent might make a note of the incident in your file.

Start home repairs and cleanup immediately
Wait until your insurance adjuster arrives. You want to get the full amount to which you’re entitled. However, do minor temporary repairs to prevent further damage, such as fixing broken windows or holes in the roof, Denise said. Also, don’t call your home insurance company to report damage if you’re not going to make a claim.

Say “flood” or “whiplash”
Three inches of water in your kitchen for a burst pipe is not a flood to the insurance company. Similarly, wait until a doctor diagnoses you with whiplash after a crash before mentioning it. It’s a red flag for fraudulent claims and could trigger further investigation. Presumably, the insurer will determine whether you are eligible for a flood or whiplash claim.

Fail to document your belongings
Don’t throw out receipts for big ticket items. They can support claims. And take photos of items around the house or use a video camera to document your belongings. Keep the documentation in a fireproof box or off site.

Source: The Plain Dealer, Saturday, February 13, 2010.