It's purely speculation at this point, but it's a question raised in The Telegraph, a popular paper in the United Kingdom: Could telling the world, on FourSquare or Twitter, that you're not in your house, raise your insurance rates?
Darren Black, the head of Confused.com, an insurance comparison site in England, suggested that this very scenario might begin happening, telling The Telegraph: "I wouldn't be surprised if, as social media grow in popularity and more location-based applications come to fore, insurance providers consider these in their pricing of an individual's risk."
It's something to think about, especially with his comment coming on the heels of the creation of PleaseRobMe.com, a Web site I wrote about for WalletPop last week. The Web site was designed to highlight the dangers of posting your location on social media sites that complete strangers can access.
That said, it seemed dubious to me that social media would really cause rates to be raised. So I emailed my own insurance guy to see what he thinks. "It's an interesting question, but I haven't really seen any rates going up due to social networking," said Jeffrey Grant, sales manager at the McFarland Insurance Group in Cincinnati, Ohio. "It's just the typical claims, like theft or weather."
Honest, good answer, but kind of short, so I went looking for another opinion and found David Hilgen, a spokesperson for Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, a property and casualty insurer based in Warren, New Jersey. He echoed the sentiment of Grant, telling me that he can't imagine a world where insurance companies would actually monitor clients' online postings to see if they're using social media to mention they aren't at home.
"We don't monitor this kind of activity," said Hilgen. "Who has the time to do that?"
When I chuckled at his rhetorical question, Hilgen added, "Seriously. To monitor all of our customers' online activity to make sure they aren't posting that they aren't at their house, that they're on vacation, it's impossible. It can't be done." Hilgen also doesn't think the rest of the industry will go there either.
Then again, somebody's probably working on an Iphone app for this very function as I write this.
But what if a house is burglarized and then it comes out that the thief read on Twitter that the homeowner was on vacation -- might insurance companies start withholding payments then?
"I can't speak for other insurers, but we wouldn't," said Hilgen. "We pay claims. We can't tell our clients you made a mistake by tweeting you were on vacation. These things happen. You're away from home, and sometimes your house is burglarized."
Even though that sounds like what you'd expect an insurance company representative to say, I have to admit that I think Hilgen is probably right. Now, I won't be surprised if some homeowner's insurance company out there refuses to pay because they feel a homeowner was careless about telling people the family was on vacation and their house was ripe for the picking. But on the whole, using a tweet as a reason for not covering someone's claim seems like a great way to make most of your entire customer base irate -- considering how many people use some form of social media.
Instead, says Hilgen, he and others in the insurance industry are working mightily to dissuade people from telling the world that they're on a vacation or not currently in their house.
"We've been preaching for awhile that people shouldn't be announcing that they're away from their home on a vacation. We think social media's a great thing. We're leaping into it ourselves, cautiously, putting together a Facebook page, for instance. But don't go to Europe and tell everyone you're in Europe, especially when you have '500' friends," says Hilgen, who says he had to caution his 14-year-old daughter about that very thing when they went on a family trip to Ireland last year.
"She was very good," says Hilgen, "and waited to post her pictures until after we came back, to her 300 or 400 friends on Facebook. It's just common sense. Go to Twitter sometime, and type in the phrase, "on vacation" in the search engine. You won't have time to look at all the references. These days, it's all too easy to find out that someone isn't at home."
Geoff Williams is a regular contributor to WalletPop. He is also the co-author of the new book Living Well with Bad Credit.
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