Facebook, your insurance company and social media – your insurance company may be watching what you post online
By Dean I Weitzman, Esq. on January 26th, 2011
Do you think that what you say on Facebook can’t hurt you legally? Think again
Here’s a scary little scenario:
You’ve been in an accident and you are home recuperating and undergoing physical therapy. You are working hard to rebuild your health and life while suffering through the pain and anguish of your injuries.
Then you post some comments on Facebook or some other social media Web site, maybe telling your friends that you left your house, drove to the mall, had some lunch and did some shopping, that you needed a break from your injuries and recovery, if even for a few hours.
Well, your friends will likely understand how you feel, but your insurance company won’t – especially if you were under doctor’s orders not to leave the house or drive.
But how will they know?
A story this week in The Los Angeles Times describes how insurance companies are taking an increasing amount of time nowadays to peruse the personal social media pages of their customers who have made claims.
By reviewing those personal pages, insurance companies are collecting information about their customers so they can determine if their claims are legitimate or not.
What’s this mean for you?
It means that you need to be careful about what you post online to protect your privacy.
First, though, that doesn’t mean you should lie.
What it means is that not everything that you do while recovering from serious injuries – which you might think is innocuous behavior – will be seen in the same way by your insurance company.
That’s what happened to a 30-year-old Canadian woman who was on medical leave for depression from her job as a computer technician, according to the newspaper story.
The woman was receiving monthly disability benefits from an insurance company, but the payments stopped abruptly after an insurance company employee looked at the woman’s Facebook page and found photos of her “frolicking at a beach and hanging out at a pub,” The Los Angeles Times story said.
The photos appeared to show that the woman was having fun and not depressed, and therefore able to work, the story said.
What the insurance company didn’t do, though, according to the woman’s attorney, was contact her for an explanation.
“They just assumed from the pictures that she was a fraud, without investigating further before terminating (her) benefits,” her attorney told the newspaper.
The woman has sued the insurance company, alleging that the insurer never discussed her condition with her doctor and that the company failed to notify her of their decision before ending her disability checks. The trial is set to begin early next year, according to the story.
While not commenting directing on the woman’s case, the insurance company told the newspaper in a statement that it “would not deny or terminate a valid claim solely based on information published on websites such as Facebook.”
This case and others like it mean that you need to be constantly aware that what you post on Facebook or any other social media site or Web site can be seen by others and potentially used against you in a legal dispute. (Note: You can change your personal settings on Facebook to ensure that only your friends can see your posts, photos and other information. Click on the settings button and select choices that allow only the people you want to see your profile so you can be sure you are protecting your personal information on the site.)
In the Canadian woman’s case, she likely saw her trip to the beach and her visit to the pub as helpful to her recovery as she worked to free herself from her prolonged depression. But to the insurance company, they saw the photos as evidence that she was “fine” and scamming the system.
There are always two ways of looking at these situations, and insurance companies typically look at them from an all-or-nothing vantage point.
That’s why people need to be conscious of what they post about themselves online to protect themselves in all kinds of legal disputes or other situations.
It’s the same as making sure that you don’t have embarrassing photos of yourself posted online – such as those taken at a college drinking party or wearing something that would be seen as unprofessional – in the event that a potential employer or even an insurance company look you up online.
And believe us, they are definitely looking you up online, trying to find fraud, false identifications and criminal activity.
“Social-networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace have become the go-to places where employers, college admissions officers and divorce lawyers can do background checks,” the Times story said. “Armed with the information, police have caught fugitives, lawyers have discredited witnesses and companies have discovered perfect-on-paper applicants engaged in illegal or simply embarrassing behavior. And now insurance companies are exploiting the free, easily accessible websites.”
Some insurance companies are even using this kind of online data as part of their formulas when they underwrite policies, the story said.
The problem with this information, though, comes when insurance companies or others use it without verification, fact-checking and other inquiries.
Like anything else, this information can be taken out of context and have huge impacts on people’s lives if and when it is wrong. Fixing things later is always much harder than getting it right the first time.
Even if there is an embarrassing or seemingly “incriminating” photo or post that is found, insurance companies or other agencies that are searching for information about you should have a responsibility to discuss it with you thoroughly, seek supporting information and thoroughly review all angles before making decisions that affect you.
If you are the victim of this kind of behavior from an insurance company, potential employer, landlord or anyone else, then contact us at MyPhillyLawyer to find out how next to proceed.
When losing isn’t an option, call us at MyPhillyLawyer.