Customers of a Columbus insurance agent become victims of fraud - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Customers of Columbus insurance agent become victims of fraud

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COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) -

You pay for the card in your glove box every month, expecting that it is protecting you against a worst case scenario, and giving you the right to drive. But how do you know that piece of paper translates to actual coverage?

It's a leap of faith akin to trusting that your money will stay in the bank after a deposit, but unlike bank accounts, car insurance payments are not guaranteed by the federal government.

Some customers of a Columbus insurance agent are learning that the hard way after Tammy Bitner's arrest on fraud charges. 

After the state began its investigation on Bitner, some of her customers were reassigned to Chris Hopkins at Capparelle's Agency on Hamilton Rd. Bitner was an independent agent and she had no affiliation with Capparelle's. Bitner is the only person being investigated. Hopkins spoke to WTVM in the capacity of an insurance expert, helping to explain how an unscrupulous agent can potentially get away with fraud if the customer is paying in cash. 

"You come in, and hand your agent $200 and say, 'I'm paying for my insurance.' They give you a receipt for that insurance; however, they're not sending the money to the company. So you're thinking you have insurance, when all you're really doing is paying for a paper receipt," says Hopkins.

Some customers went to Facebook to say they were suddenly receiving notice from the state that they had a lapse in coverage, or they would hear it from a police officer after being pulled over. Whenever they called to complain, the agent explained it away as an electronic error and promised to straighten it out.

They later learned that her quick fixes involved reinstating the policies for a day or less, then canceling them again, leaving driver's uninsured 99 percent of the time.

"If you're seeing signs that you shouldn't normally see with an insurance company, you need to call the 1-800 number, and make sure everything is legitimate on your policy," Hopkins explains.

Hopkins says the best way to stay protected against fraud is to pay with a card instead of cash.

Hopkins says the so-called electronic glitches that the agent was using as excuses to cover her fraud are not known to occur in real life. If you get word from an official source that there's something wrong with your insurance, don't just take your agent's word that everything is alright.

News Leader 9 was alerted to this investigation by posts on The Neighborhood Watchers group on Facebook.

Copyright 2014 WTVM. All rights reserved.

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