Your Social Media Could Affect Your Insurance Costs – and more!

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg once famously declared privacy is not a “social norm.” 

If you’re on social media – say goodbye to what we may once have called our ‘private life’. An unguarded comment or a misguided status update could lead to a criminal investigation. 

A trail of family history, furry friends, bad habits and unflattering photography could also have an effect on the contents of your pockets.

#TMI – we all have those friends that share – and share – and share….! But have you ever considered how much is ‘too much’ and who can see it? We can easily isolate our newsfeeds to only show us the things that we want to know and see, but what about who can see us?

Did you know that what you put on your social media pages could even affect your insurance quotes? That one little exaggeration could land you in a whole heap of trouble?

Insurance companies have developed social media investigative departments that to assist with claims, underwriting, and catching insurance fraudsters on line via their often unguarded #tfi.

An article on Insurance Quotes states that Contego Services Group, an insurance services company specialising in investigative services and fraud investigations, has an entire unit dedicated to social media investigations. The company specialises in compensation claims and detecting possible fraud by social media.

In the article Alon Grandstaff of Contego Services says: “We look for videos and photographs of the claimant engaging in activities that indicate an exaggeration or misrepresentation of an injury,” explains. “We also look for secondary income being obtained by the claimant. This information is presented to the adjuster and the adjuster determines if the claim should be denied based on the evidence.”

But how can they do this? They can do it easily – and they don’t need to send you a friend request in order to do it. It won’t always be your decision what is done with the photos and statuses that you put out there – but only you have the power to decide what you put out there at all.

But is it legal for insurers to do this? It’s all in the small print that we don’t bother to read when we are excitedly signing up. It is all down to your awareness of your own security settings 

If it’s publically posted it can be used against you. It’s called ‘implied consent’. It means you’ve agreed to share information when using any social media sites. All it takes is a bit of ‘digital deep mining’ before they can find what they are looking for – and tools being developed to assist the collection of ‘big data’ can find out what you said, where you were and what you were doing. So if you said you are off work and claiming against a broken leg during a skiing holiday, but your status has you in a bodybuilding contest in LA, then they’ve got you.

Google chairman Eric Schmidt once said during his interview on the subject that ‘if people were doing something they didn’t want anyone to know, maybe they shouldn’t be doing it in the first place’.

Microsoft recently undertook a survey of 5,000 people examining how they approach their online profiles and reputations and found that only 44% actively consider the potential long-term consequences of their online actions; leaving a surprising 56% giving in no consideration whatsoever. 14% believed they’d been negatively impacted such as like being fired from a job, denied a mortgage, losing health insurance, or losing out on being accepted to a college or a job.

Jacob Cox-Brown from Astoria is a case in point. 


Just prior to that posting, police in Astoria, Oregan, found that two cars had been in a collision. When they then received a tip-off from one of his Facebook friends they went to Cox-Brown's house and found a vehicle that matched the damage inflicted during the early-morning crash. Doh!

Statistics from the Association of British Insurers last year showed that insurers had detected a total of 118,500 bogus or exaggerated insurance claims, equivalent to 2,279 a week. The value of fraudulent insurance claims uncovered by insurers rose to a record £1.3 billion in 2013, up 18% on the previous year. This isn’t necessarily a rise in the numbers of criminal acts – but a sign of the ever-developing techniques used to uncover them. 

Insurer Aviva reported one a few years ago. A minibus had been supposedly carrying a group of people to a stag event, who alleged they sustained whiplash injuries as a result of the minibus being in a collision with another car. But following an investigation, Aviva found it had been deliberately damaged elsewhere and then taken to the scene of the incident, where debris was scattered and the accident "staged". Searches on social media linked the driver and passenger of the other vehicle to the occupants of the minibus.

But it’s not just the criminals that insurance companies are trying to find. 

Behavioral tracking techniques are no new thing and your digital footprint is huge. From what you have bought online, to what you have googled, what you have played, the quizzes you have taken, the ‘friends’ you have made, the comments you have added, your history on location-based apps and the content you have shared.

What you say online can cost you dearly. Your lifestyle and all of your habits – good and bad – are there for all to see. Underwriters will look at your profile as a whole and could deny your insurance policy solely due to your social media activity and the amount of individual risk that it indicates, not to mention things you are claiming for that just don’t exist – such as benefits.

Fraudsters around the country have already been exposed: In April last year a Northumberland woman was ordered to pay back £35,000 in fraudulent disability benefits after she posted a picture of herself standing on the Great Wall of China despite claiming she could not walk further than the length of a car.

A month later a woman in Exeter claiming to be a 'single mother' as part of a ruse to swindle £65,000 in benefits was caught out because her Facebook page said she was married.

Another mother in Coventry was outed in November when she posted pictures of her wedding online despite illegally pocketing nearly £60,000 over nine years declaring herself as a 'single mother-of-three'.

So, when setting up health insurance, don’t bother trying to ticking the ‘no’ box when they ask about your smoking and drinking habits and then end up ‘tagged’ in a friend’s photo album doing both on a beach in Ibiza. Health insurers may deny benefits completely, deny claims, or even cancel coverage mid-policy – you are, after all, increasing any health risks.

An article in Insurance Quotes made other recommendations too: ‘When applying for many types of insurance policies, often family members, spouses, and even domestic partners are on the same plan or will at least somehow be a factor in your insurance policies. Underwriters check profiles to ensure you’re telling the truth when it comes to your relationship status.’ This includes the fact that you follow a selection of breast cancer awareness forums, whether you own a dangerous pet, whether your house is being renovated, whether you got your dad to install your wood burner instead of a qualified heating engineer.

Insurance companies and anyone else is perfectly able – and legally allowed to look at your social media and build up their own picture – especially if you don’t adhere to the privacy options available to you. Digital Trends recently reported that Companies like Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo have been drawing the attention of privacy advocates and regulators in recent years, but the reality is that there are tens of thousands of companies out there collecting, processing, and distributing personal information about individuals all the time. Increasingly, those companies are looking to things like social networking for cues about individuals’ behaviors, lifestyle, interests, and activities.

They said: “Clauses of implied consent decree that users legally agree to having their information gathered and tracked, so long as they continue using accounts or services. In other words: Users can either agree to be tracked, or they can agree not to use a service. However, this cavalier approach to data collection and user profiling is drawing increased scrutiny not just from consumer and privacy advocates, but by governments and everyday people.” 

They warn that essentially there are three classes of information that impact people’s online reputations:

  • Items posted by a user for the whole world to see
  • Items posted by a user intended only for a select group
  • Items posted about a user by a third party

In conclusion, a good rule of thumb is never to post anything that you wouldn’t want your own mother to see. Certainly don’t post anything that you wouldn’t want your insurer to see. And as a precaution, consider undertaking regular searches for all the variations of your name online to see what turns up. Microsoft’s survey found that only 37% of Internet users ever do this. 

Image source: