Do you ever feel as if insurance companies know absolutely everything about you? More than they should? That’s because some of them might be following you on Facebook right now…

Rumours have been circulating for some time now that insurance companies are keeping tabs on our social media accounts.

“It doesn’t matter where you are or what you’re doing, chances are pretty good that it’s being recorded in one way or another,” says CompareGuru CEO Travys Wilkins. “The Internet contains much more information about us than we would care to realise, and any of that information can be accessed, given the right amount of motivation.”

Wilkins says that we surrender our rights to a certain amount of privacy when we take to the Internet, and particularly social media, as this allows access to our ‘personal’ lives.  “Big data knows where we are, where we shop, where we eat, the routes we drive, etc.” Imagine what insurance companies could do with all that information? To pick your exercise routines and diet apart before granting your life insurance? Luckily for us in South Africa, we have laws.

Although all this information is widely available, South African law puts limitations on how it can be used

Insurance companies are not permitted to infringe upon your privacy rights. They’re not allowed to sneak around or gather information in underhanded ways, such as hacking, wiretapping, etc. But they do have several avenues they may use to collect information.

Their primary source is what you provide them with on your application form, over telephone discussions, when you take out any cover and on the form you complete when submitting a claim.  Questions on the claim form may include matters that go beyond the actual claim. The answers you provide will be compared to what they have on record, and presumably, everything should match.

Information in the public domain can be gathered from a number of sources

These include police records, property ownership, etc. as well as the endless well of data that is the Internet. Insurers may use this to corroborate the information you’ve provided them with.

Insurance companies, of course, do not have direct access to your social media accounts, but they will dig deep until they find a post that your friends may have shared, or a photo that’s been forwarded. We can restrict our privacy settings, but we have no control over how our friends share our information.

Other methods of information gathering may include:

1. Private information accessed with your consent:

An insurer may have a clause stating that they have the right to request access to your personal banking or medical records. You may be asked to provide this consent when claiming. If you don’t grant them permission, it may appear suspicious and the insurer may even obtain a court order to access these records.

2. Loss adjustors:

Specialists may be brought in to assess your claim. If you’d had a house fire, they’ll come in to investigate how the fire started. Burglary might involve them checking your home security such as alarms or burglar bars. The higher the claim is, the more thorough the investigation. They’ll also look at police or fire department records. If the loss adjustor reports any inconsistencies to what you’ve reported in your claim, that’s a red flag.

3. Insurance companies will share information:

The South African Insurance Association has created a database called the Insurance Data System for short-term insurers. This gives them access to your claims over the past seven years across all insurers, and therefore also any trends which may have emerged.

Most insurance policies, however, require us, at claims stage, to provide all proof of what has occurred. Therefore, consent to use information in our social media accounts could be implied. And as stated before, pretty much everything we put online is already in the public domain, and therefore no longer private.

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