There is a massive home and auto repair scam playing out across Florida that has been mounting for several years. Targeting unsuspecting consumers, the systematic fraud and abuse threatens the affordability of home ownership in the Sunshine State; tangling average people up in unwanted lawsuits, and leaving some victims with unrepaired property and their insurance coverage exhausted.

The scheme basically works like this: Maybe you have a water leak in your kitchen in the middle of the night. Or you have a small crack in your car windshield. A repair vendor comes to you, hands you a document and says: “Don’t worry, I can take care of everything. Just sign this and I’ll work with your insurance company to get everything fixed.”

Without knowing it, you may be signing a sweeping “Assignment of Benefits” contract that gives the vendor control of all the rights and the benefits of the insurance policy you paid for. The vendor is now standing “in your shoes” as the policyholder. You no longer have any say over the cost or extent of repairs, negotiations with your insurer, or even the decision to sue your own insurer if there’s a dispute.

While the Assignment of Benefits scheme was virtually unknown to consumers five years ago, it is now the subject of news stories in national publications such as The Wall Street Journal, editorial page commentaries and local TV reports, because the impact in Florida has been dramatic. In 2006, there were 405 Assignment of Benefits lawsuits. Through July of 2017, more than 30,000 lawsuits had already been filed in the first half of the year. According to state insurance regulators, Assignment of Benefits fraud and abuse will cause annual premiums for owners of a $150,000 home to jump a statewide average 29 percent by 2022 if left unchecked.

When schemes such as the Assignment of Benefits abuse begin to fester, it is essential to minimize future damage by quickly mobilizing to educate consumers, media and elected leaders on the issue.  Tactics can include elements such as earned media outreach, website and social media campaigns, town hall-style meetings, targeted advertising, and grassroots outreach advising consumers on how to avoid becoming a victim.
In Florida, the Consumer Protection Coalition led by the Florida Chamber of Commerce has spearheaded an extensive public awareness campaign. While legislation to amend the Assignment of Benefits is still pending, information is now widely circulated and available to protect the public.

Ron Bartlett
Based in Tampa, Florida, Ron specializes in coordinating public policy campaigns and has worked extensively with property and casualty insurers, hospitals, health plans, corporations, government agencies and associations on a wide range of issues and crises that include homeowners insurance reform, no-fault auto insurance, and hospital Certificate of Need programs.