But according to Doug Ashbridge, director of Special Investigations for Farmers Insurance Group, some glass companies are using that loophole to convince consumers they can have new windshields for free, since they are fully covered by their insurance company.While the rationale appears logical to the consumer, the practice is illegal.
"Replacing a windshield that is not damaged, and then charging the insurance company on the grounds that it is damaged, is considered insurance fraud and is a growing problem nationwide," Ashbridge said.
In many cases, glass companies will rent parking lot space from auto repair facilities, convenience stores, gas stations or car washes, and prey upon those business' customers.
The glass company representatives - also called "glass claims harvesters" - will reportedly approach vehicle owners, inspect their windshields and offer to fix or replace them for free whether or not the glass is damaged.
Once the vehicle owner agrees to the deal, the harvester will subcontract the windshield replacement with another, less expensive glass company and turn a profit from the consumer's insurance claim.
Some of the more aggressive harvesters will even offer vehicle owners incentives, such as free car washes, free steaks or cash to replace windshields that are not in need of repair.
Some harvesters, once they obtain the vehicle owner's policy information, will impersonate the insured and submit multiple glass claims. Others will repair windshields and then claim them as replacements, or claim more repairs than were actually done.
Ashbridge pointed out that the "free" windshield could ultimately cost vehicle owners their preferred status rating with their insurance company, resulting in rate increases, and possibly more severe penalties.
"Vehicle owners who agree to unnecessary windshield repairs or replacements from these types of glass company representatives could end up facing criminal charges," Ashbridge warned. "Most glass companies are honest, so it's difficult for consumers to know if the offers are dishonest. They should contact their insurance agent before giving glass companies their policy information and letting them submit glass claims."
According to Ashbridge, industry studies have shown that property casualty insurance fraud costs consumers about $20 billion each year. In some states, it adds as much as $240 per year to every auto policy.
"Glass fraud, similar to other forms of insurance fraud, is probably present in as many as 10 percent of claims filed," Ashbridge said. "Farmers Special Investigations unit works with agents, claims representatives and our glass vendors to recognize, report and take appropriate action against all forms of insurance fraud."