Am I Under Surveillance?

In previous posts we’ve looked at when disability insurance companies are most likely to conduct surveillance of claimants and new technologies that they’re deploying to do so.  Surveillance is a common tool used by disability insurance companies in the claims process.  Disability insurers claim that surveillance is merely used as a fraud prevention tool to ensure that claimants’ disabilities are legitimate.

Unfortunately, more often it is used to distort the true nature of the claimant’s disability and deny legitimate disability claims through photos, videos, and observations by investigators that are intentionally taken out of context.  Even if your limited activity is consistent with your disability, a photo or five-second video clip can paint a misleading picture.  Insurers can use this information to terminate disability benefits, shifting the burden to you to prove that the surveillance is not representative of your disability.  This process can drag on for long periods of time – during which you are not receiving your monthly disability benefits.

An insurance company’s investigators may employ a number of different tactics during surveillance of claimants.  In this post we’re going to take a look at several of these tactics and discuss some of the signs that may indicate you are under surveillance.

Social Media

Social media monitoring has become one of the most prominent methods of surveillance used by disability insurers during the claims process.  Disability insurance companies hire tech-savvy millenials to comb the Internet and social media websites for photos, videos, and posts they can use against you.  They will also look for patterns in your photos, check-ins, and posts to better predict where you are at any given time for in-person surveillance.

As a general rule of thumb for social media, you should adjust your privacy settings on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites to allow only approved people to view your profile, your posts, and your photos/videos.  Some social media sites have separate privacy settings for your profile and your photos/videos – be sure to take a careful look at how the privacy settings on each site are organized so you’re covering all your bases.

If you receive a friend request from somebody you don’t recognize, it is better to err on the side of caution and reject the request.

 “Interview” by Investigator

One of the most obvious and most common signs that you are under surveillance is an investigator sent to your house by the disability insurance company to “interview” you.  During this interview, they may ask you what you do every hour of the day under the pretense that the insurer needs a better idea of how your disability affects your daily activities.  They may also ask to take a picture of you or take a photocopy of your driver’s license for “the file.”

These requests may seem harmless, but they have an ulterior motive.  The purpose asking what you do every hour of the day isn’t to get a better understanding of your disability, it’s to help the investigator get an idea of where you are at any given time so they can conduct more effective surveillance.  The purpose of taking your photo or asking for a copy of your driver’s license isn’t simply for the file – it’s to help investigators more readily identify you when you are out in public.

Unusual Telephone Calls

If you or your family members begin receiving telephone calls from unusual phone numbers, you might be under surveillance.  Investigators will sometimes call a number associated with you, your residence, or your family members, ask for you, and hang up after they get a response.  This tactic is used to determine whether or not you are home, and if not, to get an idea of where you are so they can conduct surveillance.  If you are able to, keep track of any phone numbers from which you receive multiple suspicious calls, and create a list of Do-Not-Answer phone numbers.

Unusual Vehicles Outside Your House

Investigators are known for sitting outside claimants’ houses for hours at a time to get photos and videos of claimants doing activities around the house and in the front yard.  If you see an unfamiliar car parked on the street near your house for long periods of time, it may be an investigator hired by your disability insurance company.  Occasionally they will put up “blackout” shades in their windows when they park so you cannot identify them, and in some cases will actually go as far as removing their license plates while parked.  If you see a vehicle like this parked near your house, we suggest closing your blinds and avoiding any activity in the front yard.

Unusual Driving Behavior

Another common surveillance tactic used by investigators is “tailing” claimants.  An investigator may follow a claimant for hours at a time as he or she drives around going about their daily activities.  Like home surveillance, tailing creates many opportunities for an investigator to snap a quick video or photo that the disability insurer can use to misrepresent your disability.  If you see a suspicious vehicle following you too closely, changing lanes when you change lanes, or exhibiting other unsafe driving behavior, it may be an investigator from your disability insurance company.

The safest way to determine whether or not you are being followed is to make three consecutive right turns.  If the suspicious vehicle follows you through all three turns, you are likely being followed.  If you are being followed, do not engage in unsafe driving behavior or attempt to confront the other driver.  It is better to simply return to your home.  If their driving behavior is unsafe or makes you uncomfortable, don’t hesitate to call the police.

Strangers at Your Door

Investigators are known to come to claimants’ doors posing as door to door salesmen or community members gathering signatures for petitions.  Like many of the other tactics, this is intended to give the investigator a closer look at your body movements, your posture, and your behavior.  If you see somebody unfamiliar at your door, ask a few questions through the door about the purpose of his or her visit before you open the door.  If the answers do not satisfy you, simply ask them to leave.

Rule Number One

With any of these surveillance tactics, the most important thing to remember is that if you feel uncomfortable or unsafe, you have every right to call the police.  Your disability insurance company has the right to conduct surveillance as long as they obey the law.  However, they do not have the right to trespass, endanger your safety or your family’s safety, or harass you.  If you think you may be under surveillance or have any questions about the tactics being used by your insurer, contact an experienced disability insurance attorney.

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Can You Sue Your Insurance Company for Invasion of Privacy?

We’ve talked before about how insurers often hire private investigators to follow and investigate claimants.  While the purported goal is to find claimants who are “scamming the system” and faking a disability, investigators often employ invasive tactics in their attempts to gather videos and other information requested by insurers.

Unfortunately, all too often investigators go too far and claimants feel threatened or endangered by these investigators’ actions. The question then arises–at what point do insurance companies become legally liable for the actions of investigators that they hired?  Can you sue your insurance company for invasion of privacy?

At least one court thinks so. In Dishman v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, 269 F.3d 974 (9th Cir. 2001), the Court agreed with Dishman that he could sue Unum for tortious invasion of privacy committed by investigative firms hired by Unum. In this case, the investigative firms in question aggressively attempted to find out employment information on Dishman by (1) falsely claiming to be a bank loan officer; (2) telling neighbors and acquaintances that Dishman had volunteered to coach a basketball team and using that as a pretext to request background information about Dishman; (3) successfully obtaining personal credit card information and travel itineraries by impersonating Dishman; (4) falsely identifying themselves when they were caught photographing Dishman’s residence; and (5) repeatedly calling Dishman’s house and either hanging up or harassing the person who answered for information about Dishman.

Because the underlying Unum disability insurance policy was an ERISA policy, the Court assessed whether Dishman’s invasion of privacy claim (which was based on California law) was precluded by statutory language which states that ERISA “shall supersede any and all state laws insofar as they . . . relate to any employee benefit plan.” 29 U.S.C. Sec. 1144 (a).  The Court, in its decision, went on to discuss a lack of consensus on this issue, but ultimately ruled that, in this particular instance, “[t]hough there is clearly some relationship between the conduct alleged and the administration of the plan, it is not enough of a relationship to warrant preemption” of state tort law, because Dishman’s “damages for invasion of privacy remain whether or not Unum ultimately pays his claim.” In other words, the Court explained, ERISA law does not provide Unum with blanket immunity for “garden variety tort[s] which only peripherally impact plan administration.”

It should be noted the Court in Dishman cautioned that there is no consensus regarding how far ERISA reaches, and not every disability is governed by ERISA, so not every court will necessarily reach the same conclusion as the Dishman court. This is a complicated area of the law, and whether or not you can sue your insurer for invasion of privacy will largely depend on the facts of the case, the type of policy you have, whether your jurisdiction recognizes an “invasion of privacy” cause of action, and the existing case law in your jurisdiction.

Information offered purely for general informational purposes and not intended to create an attorney-client relationship.  Anyone reading this post should not act on any information contained herein without seeking professional counsel from an attorney.

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New Methods of Surveillance: Part 2 – Drones

In Part 1 of this post, we discussed “stingrays”—a relatively new technology that is becoming more and more common. In Part 2, we will be discussing another new technology that is becoming increasingly prevalent as a surveillance tool—drones.

What is a “Drone”?

The term “drone” is a broad term that refers to aircrafts that are not manned by a human pilot.  Some drones are controlled by an operator on the ground using remote control.  Other drones are controlled by on-board computers and do not require a human operator.  Drones were initially developed primarily for military use.  Recently, drones have also been utilized for a wide range of non-military uses, such as aerial surveying, filmmaking, law enforcement, search and rescue, commercial surveillance, scientific research, surveying, disaster relief, archaeology, and hobby and recreational use.

How Does Drone Surveillance Work?

Typically, drones are connected to some type of control system using a data link and a wireless connection.  Drones can be outfitted with a wide variety of surveillance tools, including live video, infrared, and heat-sensing cameras.  Drones can also contain Wi-Fi sensors or cell tower simulators (aka “stingrays”) that can be used to track locations of cell phones.  Drones can even contain wireless devices capable of delivering spyware to a phone or computers.

Conclusion

Over the past few years, several new methods of surveillance have been developed.  These new technologies create a high risk of abuse by disability insurance companies, and as they become more and more commonplace and affordable, that risk will only increase.  Unfortunately, in the area of surveillance, the law has not always been able to keep up with the pace of technology.  In many respects, the rules regarding the use of new surveillance technologies remain unclear.  Consequently, the most effective way to guard against intrusions of privacy is to be aware of the expanding abilities of existing technology, because you never know when someone could be conducting surveillance.

References:

ACLU Website: https://theyarewatching.org/technology/drones.

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New Methods of Surveillance: Part 1 – “Stingrays”

In previous posts, we have discussed how insurance companies will hire private investigators to conduct surveillance on disability claimants.  In the next two posts, we will be discussing some modern surveillance technologies that most people are not very familiar with – “stingrays” and drones.

What is a “Stingray”?

A “stingray” is a cell site simulator that can be used to track the location of wireless phones, tablets, and computers—basically anything that uses a cell phone network.

How Does Stingray Surveillance Work?

A “stingray” imitates cell towers and picks up on unique signals sent out by individuals attempting to use the cell phone network.  The unique signal sent out is sometimes referred to as an International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) and it consists of a 12 to 15 digit number.

Once the “stingray” connects to a device’s signal, it can collect information stored on the device. Usually the information collected is locational data, which is then used to track the movement of individual carrying the device.

Additionally, some “stingray” devices can intercept and extract usage information, such as call records, text messages, and Internet search history, from devices it connects to.  Some “stingrays” are even able to intercept phone call conversations and deliver malicious software to personal devices.

Stay tuned for Part 2, where we will discuss drone surveillance.

References:

ACLU Website: https://theyarewatching.org/technology/stingray.

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Why Does My Insurer Want to
Conduct a Field Interview?

At some point after you’ve filed a disability insurance claim, your carrier may contact you to arrange a field interview.  Also called a “field visit,” a field interview is when a disability insurer hires a representative to come meet with you face-to-face to talk about your benefit claim.  Most times, the company will ask that you meet the field representative at your own home or office.

Your claims analyst will probably tell you that the field interview is just a way to get to know you better, or to help the company gain a better understanding of your disability claim.  What the claims analyst won’t tell you are the real reasons why insurance companies put so much time and effort into planning in-person field interviews, such as:

  • To take your picture so that a private investigator will recognize you during surveillance.
  • To find out what your house and/or office looks like to further aid in surveillance.
  • To look inside your house and see if you’ve been doing a lot of housework, paperwork, cooking for yourself, etc., all of which (according to the insurance company) can mean you’re able to work in your own occupation.
  • To see if you look like you’re in pain, if you can sit down for a long period of time, or if you can walk without any gait abnormalities.
  • To see if you look like you might have current monthly income from sources other than your occupation (i.e., if you have a nice car, a big house, a boat, etc.).
  • To drop in and try to interview your spouse, former business partners, office manager, or neighbors.
  • To try and get you to relax and open up, or to catch you off guard so that you give information the company can use against you.

In our next post, we’ll discuss what you can expect during the field interview itself.

Unum Bases Its Decision to Deny Benefits on Surveillance of the Wrong Person

A recent disability insurance case from the Southern District of California, Barbour v. Unum Life Insurance Company of America, 803 F. Supp. 2d 1135 (S.D. Cal. 2011), illustrates yet another way in which insurers sometimes improperly use surveillance to deny or terminate policyholders’ claims.  In this instance, Unum (parent company of Paul Revere, Provident, and UnumProvident) actually based its decision to deny a claimant benefits on surveillance footage of the wrong person.

Patricia Barbour was insured under a group disability insurance plan through her job as a school principal.  Ms. Barbour filed a claim under her policy due to “severe right quadrant abdominal pain—inflammation small intestines,” for which she had undergone two hernia surgeries, with serious complications.  She and her physician explained to Unum that her condition restricted her from driving, walking or standing, and sitting for extended periods of time, and that she was totally disabled from performing hers or any other occupation.  Ms. Barbour also reported that she used a cane, and that she needed her mother’s help for her daily activities.

As typically occurs, Ms. Barbour’s claims consultant at Unum retained a private investigator to perform three days of surveillance on Ms. Barbour.

Continue reading “Unum Bases Its Decision to Deny Benefits on Surveillance of the Wrong Person”

Insurers’ Law Firms Using New Technology
to Track Your Social Media Activity

As many disability insurance policyholders already know, insurance companies regularly look to claimants’ social media accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, etc.) for information to help justify a claim denial.

What you may not know is just how important those social media searches are to the insurance company’s lawyers whenever a claim goes to litigation.

At a recent disability insurance law conference attended by attorneys for both claimants and insurers, one insurance company defense attorney spoke about just how crucial it can be to find supposedly damaging information about claimants on social media.  “I don’t know how we defended these cases before Facebook,” she said.  “It’s a great resource.  We’ve found pictures of claimants dancing . . . all kinds of things!”

Your insurance company’s lawyers are so eager to use social media to find information that can make you look bad that they are now shelling out extra money on software specifically designed to monitor and archive everything you say and do on social media.  This trend is explained in further detail in the ABA Journal’s recent article: 6 tools to help firms track social media.  While the article states that some firms are using the tools to monitor their own clients, there is no doubt that they are being used to monitor their clients’ legal adversaries.

The information that can be gleaned using this type of software is unsettling.  One example from the article:

“For instance, if a post says something like ‘I’m having breakfast at this great restaurant’ and there is a picture of what they are eating . . . the software should also be able to show the GPS coordinates, other people they are with, information about the restaurant, etc., so that the whole story is presented, not just the text.”

What this means for claimants is that they must be extra vigilant about what kind of image they are projecting on social media.  Everyone, no matter how disabled, has moments of joy in life.  But if those joyful moments are posted on social media, they can easily be misconstrued, especially without context.

Private Investigators Track Disability Claimants with Stingrays

Disability insurance companies often hire private investigators to conduct surveillance on disabled insureds after they file for disability benefits.  In a previous blog post, we discussed some methods private investigators use to monitor disability claimants.  In this post, we will take a closer look at one of the latest tools private investigators now use to assist them with tracking disability claimants—stingrays.

A stingray is a new tracking device that operates as a miniature cellphone tower from inside a private investigator’s vehicle.  A private investigator can use this mobile tower to connect to a disability claimant’s cellphone—even when the disability claimant is not using the phone to make a call—and measure the cellphone’s signal strength.  Once he measures the signal strength from a particular location, the private investigator drives the stingray to another position for another measurement.  After the private investigator does this a few times, the stingray device then uses the collected data to triangulate and locate the disability claimant’s cellphone.  Since most people tend to always carry their cellphones, the device has proven to be an effective locator.

Stingrays are a relatively new technology and therefore the law surrounding the device is still largely unsettled.  The technology is becoming more and more popular, though, in part because of the limitations the Supreme Court put on GPS tracking devices in United States v. Jones.  In Jones the Court held that law enforcement officials needed a search warrant before physically attaching a GPS tracking device to someone’s vehicle because the physical attachment of a GPS tracking device to another’s property constituted trespass.

Because the stingray does not require physical attachment, some police departments have opted to invest in this newer technology, believing that the law permits them to use the equipment without first obtaining a search warrant.  In Arizona, for example, the Gilbert police department has already spent $244,000 on stingray equipment.  Many private investigators also advertise this technology and use it when conducting surveillance on disability claimants.

The legal assumptions that police officers rely upon to justify use of stingray equipment without first obtaining a search warrant are questionable and in dispute.  Civil liberty organizations, like the ACLU, argue that warrantless cellphone tracking is a serious invasion of privacy that is prohibited by the Fourth Amendment.  The Department of Justice, on the other hand, believes that requiring a search warrant is not only unnecessary, but would also severely limit law enforcement’s ability to operate effectively.  Until these issues are resolved by the courts, or until legislatures pass laws addressing stingrays, private investigators will likely continue taking advantage of the law’s gray area by using stingray equipment to assist disability insurance companies with denying claimants’ disability benefits.

Private Investigators “Pretexting” to Deny Disability Claims

Private investigators hired by disability insurance companies pretext to acquire your personal information from others.  They do this by pretending to be someone else (often you), contacting people you know, and then probing them for your sensitive information.  Pretexting is not only deceptive and unprincipled, but it may also be illegal.  Private investigators engage in this conduct to produce evidence that will enable insurance companies to deny your disability insurance claim.

The Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act specifically addresses pretexting as it pertains to obtaining personal information from financial institutions.  Many private investigators believe the scope of the Act is limited to pretexting with financial institutions only, therefore, they assume other pretexts—those not involving contacts with your financial institution—are legal.  This is a misconception, however, according to Joel Winston, the Associate Director of the FTC, Division of Financial Practices.  In an interview with PI Magazine, Winston clarifies the scope of the Act:

First, we should dispel the misimpression, if there is one, that the pretexting provisions of [the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act] only apply if the pretexter is getting “financial information.”  Actually, what the statute says is if you are getting any personal, non-public information from a financial institution or the consumer, that is covered by the statute.

(emphasis added).  Winston also answers other questions about pretexting as they relate to private investigators.  Although the Q-A session is mainly designed to illuminate private investigators of legal fences surrounding the practice of pretexting, it is also an excellent source of information for those who fear they might become victims of unlawful pretexts, or for people who want to learn more about the illegality of pretexting.

To view the article click here.

Insurance Bad Faith: Private Investigators and Their Surveillance Practices

Insurance companies often will hire a private investigator to aid in terminating disability insurance claims.  Ostensibly, the purpose of a private investigator is to expose dishonest individuals of fraudulent disability insurance claims.  A private investigator may even advertise as a “Disability Insurance Fraud Specialist.”  All too often, however, insurance companies and their investigators are not seeking to expose fraud, but to manufacture it.  They produce “evidence” only to aid in denying disability insurance claims—even wholly legitimate ones.  They do so because there is a strong financial incentive to deny disability insurance claims.

At Comitz | Beethe, we have dealt with these insurance companies and their private investigators time and again.  We know how they operate and how to prepare our clients.  We have developed a short list of basic information about private investigators so you can know what to expect:

  • When are they watching?  In a previous post, we noted the five most popular times for disability surveillance: (1) holidays, (2) birthdays, (3) weekends, (4) activities claimant listed in insurance company’s activity log; and (5) near the end of fiscal quarters.
  • Who are they?  Typically, private investigators are just as the name indicates – private people from private companies.  Disability insurance companies contract with these private companies to conduct surveillance on disability claimants.
  • What are their surveillance methods?  Particular tactics will vary depending upon the private investigator, the disability insurance company and the disability claimant.  However, many methods are common across the board.  Basically, the private investigator will inconspicuously follow a disabled claimant with a video-capturing device as the disabled claimant undergoes day-to-day activities.  If the private investigator has difficulty locating the disabled claimant, the investigator may use different tactics, such as pretexting, stake-outs or tracking devices, to locate and track the claimant.  Our last blog post describes these other tactics in detail.

The private investigation industry has a reputation for its shady practices.  At Comitz | Beethe, we uncover and expose private investigators’ objectionable “tracking” methods to protect our clients.  We hold insurance companies and their private investigators accountable under the law.

 

Private Investigator Surveillance Methods and Terms

Private investigators use a variety of tactics to produce evidence that may be used to deny your disability insurance claim.  Below is a list of different private investigator surveillance methods and terms.  

Disability Surveillance – refers to the monitoring, recording and documenting of activities or behavior of another.  In the disability context, this surveillance is called sub rosa surveillance.  Sub rosa, a Latin phrase which translated means “under the rose,” denotes the secretive and clandestine nature of private investigator actions.

Disability Stake outs – according to Shannon Detective Service, Inc.—a private investigation company whose client list includes Arizona Counties Insurance Pool, CNA Commercial Insurance, Danielson Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Federated Mutual Insurance Company, Hartford Insurance, Insurance Company of the West, Liberty Mutual Insurance, Nationwide Insurance, Progressive Insurance, Seabright Insurance Company, Sedgwick Claims Service, Travelers Insurance and Westfield Insurance—this is a stationary surveillance method by which a private investigator documents and records a claimant’s activities.  The hallmark feature of a stake out is that the private investigator does not move or follow the disabled claimant.  In a typical stake out operation the private investigator may station in front of your home or office and record you as you come and go.  The goal of the stake out is to produce evidence that will enable the insurance company to deny your disability insurance claim.  An ABC News story shows how an insurance company successfully denied a doctor’s disability claim with evidence produced during a stake out.

Disability Pretexting – the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) defines pretexting as “the practice of getting your personal information under false pretenses.”  Private investigators are engaging in illegal conduct when they use pretexting to obtain your personal information from a financial institution.  See 15 U.S.C. § 6801, et seq.

Here’s an example of how this works: someone pretends to be you and calls your bank.  The person claims to have forgotten your checkbook, account number, social security number or other sensitive information.  He then tries to get this information from the bank.  Such conduct constitutes pretexting and violates federal law.  Id.

Although private investigators claim to use only “appropriate” pretexting methods, methods which are not illegal per se, these are the same techniques which are used to facilitate identity theft and consumer fraud.  Check out the FTC website for more information about pretexting and how you can protect yourself.

Disability Tracking Devices and GPS – this area of the law is still evolving.  In a recent Supreme Court case, United States v. Jones, the Court held that attaching a GPS device to a vehicle constitutes a “search” under the Fourth Amendment; therefore, law enforcement officials need a warrant before installing the device.  132 S. Ct. 945, 949 (2012).  Although the Court did not address the attachment of GPS devices in the private investigation context, its decision largely turned on the physical trespass involved in attaching a GPS device to another person’s vehicle.  Id.  The Court stated:

It is important to be clear about what occurred in this case: The Government physically occupied private property for the purpose of obtaining information. We have no doubt that such a physical intrusion would have been considered a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when it was adopted.

Id.  Therefore, this ruling may be used to argue against private investigator installations of GPS devices since such installation would also constitute a physical trespass.  Private investigation companies, such as Shannon Detective Services, Inc. (SDS), are now looking how to bypass the physical trespass issue altogether through implementation of other technologies that do not require physical attachment.  Here are two examples of other technologies cited from the SDS website:

  • Disability stingrays (a device that can triangulate a cell phone signal to locate a user) will become popular in the future as a way to skirt around the new GPS laws for law enforcement.
  • Disability ping of cell phones (by accessing a user’s cell phone GPS chip) will also fill the gap created by GPS legislation since the FCC has mandated GPS chips to  be installed in all new cell phones by 2018.

Surveillance of Disability Claimants: When Are Private Investigators Watching?

As we have discussed in the past, surveillance is a tool commonly used by disability insurance companies to analyze – and often deny – legitimate disability claims.  When surveillance is taken out of context or misconstrued, it can lead to unfair disability denials.

All too often, disability insurance companies expect people with disabilities to stay at home, in bed.  What they fail to realize is that most doctors actually encourage disabled claimants to try some activities of daily living, light physical therapy, or social interaction.  Just because a disabled person can eat chips at a restaurant with family doesn’t mean he can perform all of the duties of his former occupation.  Nevertheless, disability insurers often try to get any physical activity on camera and use it as proof that the claimant is not disabled.

Many people filing for private disability wonder when private investigators are watching them.  After years of dealing with disability insurance detectives, we have recognized the five most popular times for surveillance of policyholders:

  • During holidays. This is when policyholders are likely to be out of the house enjoying time with family and friends.
  • On the claimant’s birthday. Just as on holidays, a disabled claimant is likely to push themselves to get out and enjoy the day.
  • Over weekends. During weekends, insureds or more likely to attempt minor errands or go outside with family.
  • Any time they have a chance of catching  a claimant engaged in physical activitybased on information provided by the claimant on activity logs and in interviews. For example, if the claimant wrote on an activity log that he takes his dogs out in the morning, the private investigator will be there with a camera to document the insured walking in the yard.
  • Near the end of fiscal quarters, when the insurance company is under pressure to save money by denying or terminating claims.

Spy Cam Placed on Disabled Man’s Neighbor’s Property by Insurance Company

Dana Fredericks, who filed a disability claim at with Accident Fund Insurance Company of America due to his back problems, says that his insurer placed a spy camera on the private property of his neighbor in order to conduct surveillance on him.  The outraged neighbor, Ron Guzanek, reports that private investigators pretended to be cable workers and cut a clearing in his hedgerow while installing the sizable camera.   Guzanek, who says the camera was placed on his private property on a private road without his consent, notified the Oakland County Sheriff’s Department.

The spy camera—which had short-circuited and was billowing smoke—was removed by the fire department and remains in the custody of the Sheriff’s Department, despite the assertions of Accident Fund Insurance Company of America that the company and its private investigators had complied with all laws.  The insurance company is conducting an internal review into the matter.

While not all insurance companies will go to illegal lengths in order to spy on their insureds, this story is a reminder to anyone with a disability claim to be aware that at any time your insurance company may be conducting surveillance upon your activities.

Local television coverage of the Addison Township, Michigan spy cam incident can be viewed here.

Disability Claim Investigation:
What Can My Insurance Company Do?

What your disability insurance company can do when it is investigating a claim for disability benefits largely depends on your specific circumstances and the language in your policy, but there are some common tactics that Arizona courts will often allow – and some they will not.

What the disability insurance company can do

  1. Audit your tax returns and billing records
  2. Review your medical files
  3. Use a private investigator to conduct video and photograph surveillance
  4. Look at your public Facebook profile and pictures
  5. Follow you on Twitter
  6. Order an Independent Medical Exam
  7. Have an insurance company doctor opine about your disability
  8. Ask for a Functional Capacity Evaluation
  9. Contact your treating physician
  10. Schedule face-to-face interviews with you
  11. Interview your family, friends, co-workers and employees
  12. Demand precise quantifications of your time spent in every professional activity pre- and post-disability
  13. Pay your claim under a reservation of rights

What the disability insurance company cannot do

  1. Impose requirements on you that are not in your policy
  2. Attempt to influence the opinions of independent medical examiners
  3. Misrepresent policy provisions
  4. Conduct abusive interviews
  5. Unfairly delay a decision on your claim
  6. Fail to conduct a timely, adequate investigation of your disability claim
  7. Destroy key documents
  8. Lie about actions taken on a claim
  9. Place their financial interests ahead of your contractual rights
  10. Force you to litigate by offering an unreasonably low lump-sum buyout

When it comes to claims investigation, disability insurance companies often skirt the limits of what they can legally do. If you think your insurer might be acting in bad faith, contact a disability insurance attorney to protect your disability benefits.

An Inside Look at Insurer Surveillance

Insurers often spy on insureds in an attempt to “catch” them appearing non-disabled. Traditionally, insurers have hired private investigators to videotape insureds in their daily routines. More recently, disability insurers have begun to use Facebook and other social media as a one-way mirror for electronically peeping into an insured’s private life. Old-fashioned stakeouts and video surveillance are alive and well, however. Because it is so easy to misconstrue even a few seconds of video footage, all insureds need to be aware of the possibility for surveillance.

A recent article written by the insurance industry and aimed at insurers exposes the way insurers regard surveillance. Though the article cites a private investigator as saying that surveillance is the “unbiased documentation of a person’s activities,” the reality is anything but. Disability insurers will hire PIs to watch a claimant for days, and then purport that a single fifteen-second clip of the insured watering his outdoor plants, for example, is evidence of a fraudulent claim. They fail to understand the reality: Disability means unable to perform occupational duties, not absolute and perpetual helplessness. What does the insurer do with this video evidence? In their own words, “[impeach] the claimant, ultimately minimizing the value of his claim.”

Even if your insurer has obtained video surveillance, an experienced disability insurance attorney can place the video in its proper context—not just the five second clip that the insurer wants to show. Surveillance is another reason why it is important to consult with an attorney should you need to file a disability insurance claim.