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Insurance fraud expert warns Florida homeowners of scams after Hurricane Ian

An expert on insurance fraud is warning Florida residents whose properties were damaged by Hurricane Ian to be careful of scams, especially from construction workers who may ask homeowners to sign over insurance benefits for a quick fix.

Gina Clausen Lozier, an insurance attorney for 15 years who specializes in fraud cases, told USA TODAY that homeowners should first work with their insurance companies to file damage claims.

"There will be a lot of frivolous people converging in the area," she said. "If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is."

Gina Clausen Lozier, who specializes in insurance fraud cases, says Florida homeowners need to be wary on scams after Hurricane Ian.
Gina Clausen Lozier, who specializes in insurance fraud cases, says Florida homeowners need to be wary on scams after Hurricane Ian.

At least 13 people were reported dead in counties across the state, a number that's expected to rise drastically. Sheriffs in southwest Florida said 911 centers were inundated by thousands of stranded callers, some with life-threatening emergencies. More than 2.6 million homes and businesses were without power Thursday.

What if Hurricane Ian hits your home? Your guide to disaster insurance 

Clausen Lozier, also a member of the Florida Property and Casualty Insurance Fraud Task Force, said lawmakers the past few years have passed new measures to crack down on unscrupulous, out-of-state construction workers who have converged on Florida after natural disasters.

Spotting insurance fraud

Clausen Lozier said common scams include:

►Construction firms persuading homeowners to "sign assignment of benefits" in exchange for immediate repairs. That has allowed those firms to obtain claim funds from insurers, which may be above the actual cost of the work.

"If you make an assignment of benefits, they step in your shoes and you may not understand what you are giving up," she said. "You could get more money from an insurance company. … There is no reason to give away a portion of your money."

►Companies seeking to adjust a claim, the process of determining coverage, legal liability and settlement payments. Clausen Lozier said only a licensed public adjuster or a licensed attorney can do that.

How to report insurance fraud

Clausen Lozier added that consumers can contact the Florida Department of Financial Services to verify the license of an adjustor or attorney.

She also said seniors need to be especially careful of scams.

"Don't let your guard down," she said.

Have a tip on business or investigative stories? Reach the reporter at craig.harris@usatoday.com or 602-509-3613 or on Twitter @CraigHarrisUSAT or on LinkedIn

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Homeowners insurance Florida: Be wary of Hurricane Ian scams