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Social media is breathlessly changing the way our world communicates, shares news and pictures, and forms relationships with other people. Recently, there have been several articles in the news about how social media has been used by insurance companies to accuse people of committing disability claim fraud. Many people do not think about what they put on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, but claims examiners, field representatives, and private investigators sure do. These sites are some of the first (and best) sources of information used to delay or decline paying a disability claim. While Internet searches are not always misused in a claim investigation, the possibility for abuse is there by misconstruing what’s posted or putting information in a wrong or misleading context. This is why we educate our clients on how to be clear and careful about what they put online and how to have a consistent social media footprint when filing a disability claim.
It might sound funny, but Google yourself. Get an idea of what may be floating around the Internet about you. For another example, try Dirt Search and you might be surprised what one free, simple, quick public record search is able to find.
The major social networking website today is Facebook. Chances are, if you are reading this blog, you have a Facebook profile, and this profile can be a goldmine for insurance company investigators trying to find out more about you and ways to deny your disability claim. Anything that could be construed as inconsistent with your disability can be developed into evidence against your claim. Insurance companies require an authorization form to be signed when filing a disability claim, which gives them and their investigators permission to pursue this data. Your online data includes not only items you post onto your Facebook profile but also any pictures or items where you have been tagged by family and friends. Our firm has worked with a client whose claim was stopped due to a posting about a charity fundraising event that her disability should have (and did) prevented her from participating in. The insurance company assumed that the insured was participating in the event and twisted an innocent comment on Facebook into an accusation of malingering and terminated her claim. Two months and too many letters later, the insured realized what had happened and had to struggle to correct the assumption mistakenly made by the claims examiner.
Another social network that insurance companies often use to investigate their claimants is LinkedIn. LinkedIn is used mainly for business, so it can have a direct effect on the occupational aspects of a disability claim. If your LinkedIn profile creates the impression that you are still working or have become active in a different capacity, the insurance company may use this information to delay or deny your disability claim. Such activities can even include volunteering, hobbies, religious, or community functions, participating in professional group discussions, and networking with other professionals in your field. Insurance companies can use these as a basis to assert that an insured is still actively participating in their job or working in some capacity, even if the proof is completely digital and based on assumptions.
Although Facebook and LinkedIn are the two most commonly used social networks right now, that does not mean they are the only sources of information. If you use Twitter to check-in at places or update others on your activities or events, realize that investigators and insurance companies can follow these same updates. The newest social media phenomenon is Pinterest, and insurance companies are working to add this to their Internet searches as well. Pinning interests or activities to a profile may be used to monitor or discover an insured’s interests or activities and become the basis for an expanded investigation, which is seldom good news for an insured relying on their disability benefits. Remember, you may think that your posts are just little snapshots of your life. No matter how innocent, it is too easy to take things on the Internet out of context.
Even if you have limited or reduced your social media presence, you still may have an Internet footprint that you need to consider. Prior versions of websites can be found and recovered. Insurance companies and their investigators use data mining for financial information, professional records, business records, as well as real estate and personal property records. There are several proprietary systems, such as the service provided by LexisNexis, that allow companies to pull vast amounts of personal data and identifying information that you may not realize is available on-line. These invasive searches are legal and authorized by the insurance company’s authorization form. These searches are far beyond and above what is available to the public and can include criminal records, court records, financial records and credit reports, prior insurance claims, and other information many people think is private or unreachable. In fact, one special investigations unit (SIU) of an insurance company even bragged about their ability to find out the flight schedules of insureds.
Our world is at a new point in digital technology where many of our business and personal relationships are maintained over the Internet and through social networks. While the advantages of these networks are great, remember the potential exists for personal and private information to be spread further and more available than ever before. While most people try and present their best side online – no one wants to post pictures of them suffering from their disability – these positive presentations may create wrong impressions and can make what should be a straightforward disability claim fiercely fought by an insurance company. Too many disabled people fail to consider issues like this when posting on-line. Activities and events are no longer forgotten – they are stored for a lifetime on social media websites. No matter how careful you think you are, there is always the chance some information is out there that can be misconstrued. Insurance companies are trying to find this information and will use it against you, so it is wise to be prepared. Our firm is well experienced in aspects of social media, and we are prepared to help protect your disability claim from the digital life the insurance companies may try to dream up to use against you. Please visit our website for more disability claim advice.