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Authorities urge residents to read fine print on insurance requests

By Katie Demeria

Some residents in Frederick County have received letters of solicitation from a Connecticut-based insurance company asking them to purchase coverage for their water lines -- but many are mistaking the messages for official government requests.

Lauren Cummings, police community relations/crime prevention specialist for the Winchester Police Department, released a news release Thursday assuring residents that the letters are not official.

"We actually got the complaint from the Commissioner of the Revenue Office," Cummings said. "The letters aren't affiliated with local government or any local utility company."

The letter is designed to look like an official letter, with "Important Information Regarding Your Water Service Line" printed across the top and a request to respond within 30 days. Some are mistaking the solicitation for insurance coverage as a bill from the utility company.

Only the fine print across the bottom of the letter indicates it comes from the independent, third party company Home Emergency Insurance Solutions.

The insurance company has held accreditation from the Better Business Bureau since Feb. 3. In 2011, though the company has issued letters similar to those Frederick County residents received.

"The Better Business Bureau sent out an alert on the company for the mere fact that [the letters] are appearing or giving the impression to residents that they are affiliated with utility companies," Cummings said.

According to the Better Business Bureau's website, in 2011 the company mailed notices to Massachusetts residents "giving the impression the notices were bills from the utility itself, rather than solicitations for optional repair service contracts."

Since then, Home Emergency Insurance Solutions has worked to clarify its letters, including its role as a third party business at the bottom and changing the logos at the top to no longer contain images of the resident's state.

Despite those changes, though, several Frederick County residents "expressed concerns to officials in City Hall," according to the news release.

"It appears that this company is a legitimate business," Cummings said. "They're not themselves a scam. But I think their intentions have been questioned in the past."

Cummings said actual scams from outside companies attempting to trick individuals into paying extra money or giving away personal information are far too frequent.

"We're not told about them as often as we should be," she said. "I would say that, unfortunately, I think people fall victim before they call and question it. And so we hope that people will start to look twice at what they're seeing in the mail."

Warren County Sheriff Daniel McEathron said his department also sees locals falling victim to scams far too often.

"Our rule of thumb is, if you don't make hand-to-hand or eye-to-eye contact, then stay away from them," he said.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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