Too often I get calls from someone claiming to be a broker wanting to get a certificate of insurance for one of my clients so they can ship them on a load. I politely inform the broker, “COI can only be requested by the insured.”
Then: I contact the client to inform him that the broker is trying to obtain a COI. Often that’s when I learn that the alleged dispatch didn’t happen and wasn’t about to happen at all – it was either an attempt at identity exploration , a scam.
Many of us look at our insurance certificate and think, “there’s nothing here to steal my identity.” It is most definitely do not the case. Potential identity thieves use multiple sources to get as much information about us as possible before executing the theft. Our COIs contain our addresses, company names, insurance policy numbers, vehicle identification numbers, our insurance company, insurance agency information and more.
Both insurance fraudsters and insurance stalkers may use COI to determine whether it is worth pursuing an insurance claim or lawsuit against us. We all know what an insurance fraudster is. But I call the lawyers who target trucking companies insurance stalkers. Both like to use COIs to identify who they can raise the most money from with an insurance claim or legal action. Insurance stalkers can use COIs when a potential customer approaches them with a request to represent them for a claim or lawsuit involving a truck or trucking company.
The FMCSA only requires that minimum personal injury and property damage (BIPD) coverage be listed on our publicly available MCS-90 endorsement. However, this amount can and often is less than the actual BIPD coverage of our policy. These days, most trucking companies have at least $1 million in BIPD coverage. This is why insurance stalkers like to have a COI. It shows the total amount of BIPD coverage on the policy. Insurance stalkers use this information to adjust the claim and/or lawsuit amount to an amount closer to the policy’s full BIPD coverage.
Insurance fraudsters, on the other hand, can use COIs to identify the trucks they want to target in a planned “accident”, i.e. Insurance Fraud.
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Broker and carrier impersonation are forms of scams previously reported here in Overdrive. I can think of many ways a COI can be used to accomplish many identity theft crimes and scams. Because I don’t want to give a potential scammer or aspiring identity thief a new idea, I’ll limit my list to the most obvious and easy ways to use our COIs against us.
After acquiring your COI…
- The identity thief learns your preferred lanes of traffic by looking at the charging signs, contacts you and says he has a large charge, already has your COI, and only needs a current W9 to send you on the charge. When the potential identity thief receives your W9, they now have the most important information to steal your identity or that of your company.
- The would-be thief learns your preferred travel routes by looking at load boards, contacts a broker on a load, pretending to be you, accepts the load and receives an advance – a scam that has become more common in recent years and is often called the fuel advance scam. Basically, however, this is identity theft, and you may be held responsible for the advance and required to reimburse the broker for their loss in the worst-case scenario.
- The would-be thief uses the learned information for a loan on your behalf and uses the VIN number on the COI as collateral, securing the loan on your behalf. When the loan is not repaid, your truck risks being repossessed by the lender.
[Related: Growing broker/carrier identity-theft schemes reaping millions]
These are just a few scenarios. I am certain that enterprising scam artists and identity thieves have more ways to use COI information against us than I can think of. The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself.
- Check with your insurance agent they will not give any COI for your policy unless the request comes directly from you.
- Remove all “additional insureds” from your policy. In addition to the other risks of having additional insureds, these insureds may potentially request that COI be passed on to third parties without your knowledge.
- Lock all your credit reports to prevent creditors from receiving a credit report for a potential identity thief impersonating you.
The last is perhaps the most important of these – and you can do so via the links below to the credit freeze pages with the major credit reporting services:
Equifax | Trans Union | Experian
Taking this last step may seem drastic, but it won’t cost you cash, and it’s something I did myself. However, this will create more work for you when applying for credit of any kind. You will need to temporarily unlock your credit to allow a legitimate lender or other entity to access the report, before locking access again. But in today’s world, with identity theft rampant, that little headache might just be worth it.
Have a specific insurance question for the author of this story, longtime insurance agent/owner-operator W. Joel Baker? Drop a comment with any question below the story or contact Baker directly through her website.
Find more information on the ins and outs of trucking insurance, among a myriad of other topics, in the Overdrive/Partners in Business Handbook co-produced by ATBS for new and established owner-operators, a comprehensive guide to running a small trucking business. Click here to download the new 2022 edition of the Partners in Business Handbook for free.