Insurance Commissioner John D. Doak visited Altus yesterday, June 20, as part of his 77-county tour of the state. It’s important to him to get out and meet the people to see what concerns they have. He said, other than the Governor’s office, his office may touch more lives than most elected officials because his office regulates so many things in the state. Among his many concerns regarding the citizens of Oklahoma is the subject of fraud.
Frauds and scams are common in Southwest Oklahoma. Maybe people think they can come from the bigger cities and pull one over on those of us that live in a more rural part of the state. The solution to fraud is a two-part approach: education and increased consequences for the crimes. Doak is using both to decrease fraud in Oklahoma.
For the education part, Doak and the Oklahoma Insurance Department (OID) is currently sponsoring five anti-fraud conferences through the state. Entitled “Fraud is No Game”, the nearest conference is scheduled in Lawton, on Wednesday, July 25. The event will be held at Cameron University.
The conferences will help people learn how to “spot, avoid and fight fraud”. Aimed at subject matter that concerns most older Americans, the conference topics include: “Medicare Fraud, Funeral Home Trust Fraud, Contractor Fraud and Investment Fraud.”
“Criminals who go after seniors should beware. It’s my mission to protect these important citizens and I will go after anyone who tries to take advantage of them,” said Doak. “These conferences will teach seniors how to spot a scam and what to do next.”
The conference is free for senior adults and includes breakfast. There is a $25 fee for insurance and law enforcement professionals seeking Continuing Education credit.
How to Register Online: “www.ok.gov/oid/Public_Information/Events”; By Phone: 1-800-763-2828; In person: 8 a.m. on the day of the event.
For the increased consequences, Doak has been concerned about tougher penalties for insurance fraud. He requested Senate Bill 1439 which was passed and signed into law, to be effective July 1. This is expected to save taxpayers millions of dollars. “The law sends the message that if you steal money from Oklahomans, we’re going to come after you,” said Commissioner Doak.
According to his press release, “The new law makes insurance fraud a felony. It also allows prosecutors to group several smaller thefts together and charge the perpetrator with a more serious crime. An example of this would be an unscrupulous agent charging someone $800 a month when the premium was actually just $700. After several months of overcharges, the crime would be elevated from a misdemeanor to a felony. The bill raises the punishment to as much as five years in prison. Thieves may also have to pay back twice the amount of money stolen. Right now, the fine is just $1,000. The bill also allows officials to seize any property obtained with the illegal funds.
“This is a great piece of legislation that will go a long way in closing gaps and making our Anti-Fraud Unit more effective in pursuing insurance fraud investigations,” said Michael Copeland, Director of the Oklahoma Insurance Department’s Anti-Fraud Team.
With Oklahoma’s extreme weather, Doak said yesterday, “It’s not a matter of if - but when…” and unscrupulous “contractors” seem to follow the storms’ paths. “Fraud happens,” Doak said, but that’s why the Fraud Unit is a first responder.
In the recent Woodward tornado disaster, Doak’s field representative for the area gave up-to-the-minute information to Doak and Gov. Fallin. The Fraud Unit went to help spare the people anymore loss. The areas had six fatalitites and multi-million dollar losses. Doak said that when he toured the Woodward devastation, no one asked him whether he was a Democrat or a Republican; they really just needed help.