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Out-of-state repair companies fined for alleged insurance scams following July hailstorm

Daily Inter Lake | September 29, 2022 12:00 AM

Montana’s insurance commissioner has fined four out-of-state vehicle repair companies for allegedly illegal activity after they attempted to service cars in the Bigfork area following July’s massive hailstorm.

Commissioner Troy Downing said his office targeted the companies for illegally waiving or offering to waive insurance deductibles. He said Montana law prohibits this practice because, in many cases, the dent repair company overcharges insurance companies to recoup the loss of paying the deductible. That leads to higher premiums all around, he said.

“One of the things that we have in law is that a repair place cannot charge a different amount for an insured customer than they can for an uninsured customer, and what this ends up being is it's a different amount for an insured customer, because they're adding in the coverage of that premium,” Downing said. “One of the things that I just wanted to point out is … we're all paying for insurance fraud.”

The companies fined $1,000 include Hail Repair A1 LLC of Tucson, Arizona; Prestige Hail Damage Corporation of Royse City, Texas; SBM Ventures LLC of Castle Rock, Colorado; and National Dent Busters of South Boardman, Michigan. Downing said it’s common for contractors called “storm chasers” to go to areas that just experienced damaging weather. They go door-to-door trying to sell their repair service, and oftentimes, they take advantage of a bad situation to pressure consumers into signing with them, he said.

Other pressures, such as the lack of available contractors due to Montana’s rapid growth, play a part, too. Downing said people already struggling often fall victim.

“You're looking at this damage and you have an obligation to mitigate the damage, and somebody is calling you up and saying, ‘Hey, sign this and we'll have somebody there on Monday.’ That's obviously enticing,” Downing said. “And a lot of times they'll use these high pressure sales techniques saying, ‘Well, if you don't agree right now and if I don't get a deposit right now, then you may be at the bottom of the list.’”

He said it’s important for people to vet vendors. Consumers can also be liable for insurance fraud, especially if they know what they are doing is against the law.

“We try to impress upon people that if somebody's knocking on your door, or calling you trying to sell you a repair service, make sure that you do your homework,” Downing said. “Make sure that they're licensed, make sure they are who they say they are, make sure that you can call them back from a website or a phone book or directory, so that you know who they are ... For the most part, just make sure that they're legitimate, that they're licensed and a legitimate repair operation or contractor operation.”

Montanans are urged to report all insurance fraud to the Office of the Commissioner of Securities and Insurance by calling 406-444-2040 or by going to CSIMT.gov.