Insurance fraud hail storm

On any given summer day in this fair suburban neighborhood, one could look out over the expanses of manicured fescue and Bermuda and find day laborers napping under giant sweetgums and oaks. They are dead to the world, arms over their eyes and in the deep coma of a man who has spent hours on a steep-pitched roof under the blanket of 95-degree skies and 95% humidity. Honk a horn and they won’t move. Wave when they are standing and they might offer a world-weary nod. They know who they are.

They are pawns in a game of fraud, and they are among the few people who are having to work very hard to cash in.

***

It was late March, a time when a gray sky can split like a pair of skinny jeans and punch a fist so big on the landscape, you wonder what you did to deserve such horror. That’s how it was when I lived in the Midwest and Deep South. Since I’ve holed up in the Southeast, nature’s sledge has acted more like a rubber mallet. I never worried.

I was alone that day, save the half-blind mutt that was sitting between my feet. When the first smack hit, I thought, “Earthquake.”

Anyone who has experienced an earthquake or actually lives in earthquake-prone regions would probably laugh, but the only time I’ve ever “been” in an earthquake it started and ended the exact same way.

See, here in this part of the world, we don’t get those big temblors you get out west. Five years ago, a fault under the Appalachians moved just a little, something so small that Californians wouldn’t have felt it. I didn’t feel it per se. I was sitting on my couch with my dog. Her head quickly rose up and she went on alert. About two seconds later, I heard what sounded like something hitting the side of my house. I went outside and looked around. Nothing. I grabbed a flashlight and walked the perimeter, a suburban warrior who would have had absolutely zero idea what to do if he actually encountered something. Still, nothing.

Once back inside, I returned to my computer where I saw the news of the earthquake. It was, in a word, neat. It was, in a phrase, completely void of consequence. South Carolina earthquakes are traffic light romances–more fantasy and potential than something that will end with a good story.

Hailstones from the March 2010 Greenville, SC hailstorm

On this day in late March, it was not an earthquake. Seconds later, another smack. Within half a minute, the sky opened and dropped golfballs all over my home and yard. I used naughty words, protected the dog from natural curiosity, and, of course, pulled out a camera–just in case this was, indeed, End TImes. I hear tabloids pay well for evidence of Armageddon precursors.

I have an aunt and uncle–among my favorite relatives, in fact–who are pious, conservative people. They once endured a similar storm. My Aunt Judy stood on the porch and yelled for my uncle. “Connie Mack!” she screamed. “Hail! Hail!” Uncle Connie came quickly, sure my never-uttered-a-bad-word aunt was screaming “Hell! Hell!!” He admonished her for her dirty mouth, and then saw the hailstorm falling from the sky. Hell might actually look the same way.

I stood on that spring afternoon and thought to myself, “Hell, Connie Mack. This is indeed hell on earth.”

Oh, it didn’t last too long. A couple minutes of nature’s crankiness, followed soon by this suburban warrior checking the windows and outdoor vehicles for damage. Finding none, I walked inside and did what any other rational person would do.

I posted it all on Twitter and Facebook.

****

Once the storm pushed itself off the bottom of my Facebook page, I stopped thinking so much about the hellstorm hailstorm of 2010. As a creature of the Now Society, if it’s not trending on Twitter or getting copied and pasted into people’s status messages on Facebook, I am told I should go all Alfred E. Newman about most things.

Sometime this summer, people started knocking at my door. The day laborers started showing up on the lawns and peaks of my neighbors homes. The few hundred homes around mine had a–and my neighbors will have to forgive me for this–slimy aura surrounding them. And if any of you New Agers haven’t seen a slimy aura yet, you really ought to reposition your chakra. It’s a sight to behold.

Roofing companies from all over the southeast had descended on the world around Mt. Otis. Slick-haired hucksters appeared on my doorstep and told me about all the roof damage in my neighborhood. I turned them away one by one. I had no leaks. I had no damage I could see. I didn’t want to cover a $1,000 deductible just so a band of gypsy travelers from North Augusta could put some new tar paper on my roof and disappear into the night.

Indeed, this happened a lot. The sham companies showed up around town. Even companies that were at one point legit saw they could take a bunch of money, close up shop, and run off with the dough (the company, of course, denies the allegations). I didn’t feel like pushing the issue. It felt ugly to me, if not also fairly illegal.

Then more and more of my neighbors started getting new roofs on their home. More and more roofer advertising signs showed up in font yards.

And then my insurance premium went up.

This is where my impeccable sense of honestly and right-thinking took a powder.

Why, I thought aloud, should all my neighbors get new roofs and cause my premiums to go up? A new roof–which my house will almost certainly need when it comes time to sell–is not a cheap proposition. If I could get it done, I thought, without having to spend my kid’s tuition on it…

Oh, yes, it was a slimy and morally corrupt way of thinking. The hell of the hailstorm was still around me. I felt dirty, because when the next man showed up at our door–one of our actual same-street neighbors!–I allowed for my roof to be inspected for damage.

Said neighbor, who told my wife, “Hey, it’s a free roof!” told us unequivocally, “You definitely have hail damage.”

Well, I thought, this makes me feel a lot better. If I am actually owed a new roof because it was actually damaged by a natural force, then I shouldn’t have any reason to feel guilt.

And, hey…new roof!

***

“You know what roofer told you you had hail damage?” Big William asked.

Big William smelled of cigarettes, had a Dallas phone number, and drove a big white truck. He was also a very big man.

A State Farm Insurance adjustor, it was Big William’s job to inspect my roof before State Farm would sign off on any work. I welcomed Big William into my house, told him we’d not had any leaks since the storm, and then let him sweat and toil on my roof. When he appeared on my front porch 45 minutes later, he had a camera and the question about what roofer was trying to work for us. I told him.

Big William’s face sort of screwed up. “Well, he lied to you.”

This is not a kid-gloves world where people suggest that people might be incompetent or mistaken. The realm of contractors vs. insurance adjusters is one where people can call other people a liar. It’s like politics with roofing nails.

To prove himself, Big William pulled out a digital camera and showed me photos of my roof, the flashing, the gutter protectors, the shingles, and the venting. Big William told me that if I really had hail damage, everything he’d shown me would’ve been beaten to hell. Big William conceded my window screens had been damaged, but that was all.

Though I am loathe to take as truth anything that an insurance company asserts, I believed the giant. I knew Big William was telling the truth. The man was sweating and breathing like he might die on my front porch, but my ability to tell liars from thieves and thieves from crooks let me know that Big William was no liar. He was costing me a new roof and not letting me cash in on the rampant fraud on display all around me, but he wasn’t lying.

I didn’t argue with Big William. In fact, I shook his sweaty ham of a hand, thanked him for his efforts, and bid him goodbye.

We live in a culture in which taking advantage is almost a virtue. Taking something when you can get it–no matter if it is on the back of a lie or fraud–is praised as business acumen. Our society is based on collecting what you can, getting as far ahead as possible, and damning the consequences for others.

Would I have cashed in on the new roof if the adjustor signed off on it? Sure. I could use a new topper on the house. Am I mad that I’m not going to get the work? Not really. I think there is a valuable lesson in it all somewhere.

It’s one thing to get what you deserve. It’s another thing entirely to take what you want, no matter who it costs, just because you can.