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How insurers may trap you

Keeping you as a captive customer

Car insurance is a highly competitive business. Many insurers offer substantial discounts to motorists who switch to them from a competing company will once they have you as a client they will most probably want to keep you for as long as possible, and to sell you as many of their services as they can. A common tactic is to get you to pay by credit card and then inform you that "for your convenience" they will hold onto your card details so that your next premium can be paid automatically without you having to concern yourself with it. What they do not tell you is that the renewal will be at full price and will not include any introductory discounts that you have enjoyed in the first year.

They are therefore hoping that you will simply shrug your shoulders when the renewal form arrives a year later, and that you will allow it to go through automatically, blissfully unaware that it is for a far higher premium than you paid a year previously. You should not fall for this; refusing to allow them to carry out an automatic renewal leaves you free to find a possibly cheaper alternative, whilst it does of course place the onus on you to make sure that you have a replacement ready for when your current policy expires.

Upselling you

Once you have got a policy for the first time you may well get a call from an "adviser" at the insurance company claiming to be checking that everything is okay and you are happy with your policy. You may then be offered an optional extra such as legal cover or a guaranteed courtesy car in the event of an accident; leaving aside the fact that you thought you had already bought a courtesy car entitlement (on many policies they only say they will let you have one if one is available; that"s a lot different from a guaranteed one!) It"s far too expensive so you turn it down only to be given a special offer at a fraction of the normal price.

If it's a bargain you accept – the following year, at renewal time, it is there on the policy again only this time at full price. The vast majority of insurance buyers never noticed this and since their policies are renewed automatically (see the paragraph above) the charge goes through without a challenge. This kind of thing used to be called "inertia selling" and was of doubtful legality but it"s now a quite widespread practice.

Dark arts

There is a much more dubious tactic that is not so common but it pops up every now and again and it could be financially devastating for the victims. It is a condition of every insurance contract that the proposer provides good honest information to the insurance company about any factors which could affect a premium or a decision on whether or not to offer insurance at all. Now thanks to modern technology and data sharing insurers can find out far more about us than most of us realise; and it should be possible for them to check up on many of the more important questions that they ask on the proposal forms, even before the forms have been completed. Some of them do not do so.

They accept the premium and issue the policy but either make their checks afterwards and then demand a large extra premium if they find a discrepancy or, much worse, they wait until a claim has been made before checking the accuracy of the information they have been given, using any discrepancies as an excuse to delay, cut down or even refuse the claim. It is a fair comment to say that it is the responsibility of the person buying the insurance to make sure that all details given are 100% accurate but mistakes can happen and in this day and age it should be possible for at least the major ones to be discovered before a policy has been issued.

Don't be a victim

So, forget about the image we all used to have about insurers being elderly gentleman of the old school dressed in pinstripe suits and bowler hats. Today"s breed are sharp business people employing commission hungry salespeople who know every legal trick in the book. If you want to buy insurance at the lowest possible prices you need to be as sharp as they are and play them at their own game. Refuse to allow them to renew anything automatically, make sure that all the information you give them is absolutely accurate (it"s a waste of time trying to pull the wool over their eyes, they can find out the truth anyway), check every renewal notice carefully and always make sure you know what other alternative companies you can go to if your current one is no longer competitive.

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Telephoned quotations are provided by Alternative Insurance Brokers, of Anglia House Carrs Road, Cheadle, Cheshire, SK8 2LA, registered in England No 8253536. Alternative Insurance Brokers is a trading name of Alternative Propositions Limited which is Authorised and Regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, registration number 602443.

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