You're getting your car cleaned at the carwash. Suddenly a stranger walks up and insists on replacing your windshield for free.
How odd, you think. Your windshield's in good shape. It doesn't need replacing.
Your auto insurance will pay for everything, the stranger says. He also promises you free movie tickets and a nice cash rebate that covers your deductible.
Careful — this is a windshield swindle that can create a serious safety hazard for you and your passengers, fleece your insurance company, drive up your auto premiums, and land you in jail.
Replace undamaged windshields. Typically, crooks will convince drivers to replace perfectly good windshields. The crooks then lie to your insurance company that the windshield was seriously damaged and needs repairing. Next they'll charge your insurer needless and inflated repair costs.
Inflate real damages. Swindlers might replace an expensive windshield that only has a small crack or nick that could easily be repaired at little cost. They might also charge insurers to replace several chips when only one chip was repaired.
Charge for phantom damages. Some con artists charge your auto policy for several windshield replacements without you knowing it. Once they have your insurance information, you're at their mercy, even after they've long disappeared.
Fly-by-night operators. Often the swindlers are fly-by-night operators. They're poorly trained, work out of pickup trucks in parking lots, and disappear after quickly finishing shoddy repairs. They often approach people at car washes, gas stations, parking lots of convenience stores, or booths at county fairs. The con artists can be aggressive, and continually pester you to do the bogus repairs.
Crooked body shops. Most body shops are honest, but crooked operators may try to involve you in similar windshield scams when you bring your vehicle in for repairs.
High-volume business. Windshield swindlers make their profits from high-volume business. They can replace a windshield quickly and easily, then charge large and costly markups.
Offer freebies. To succeed, the crooks must convince motorists to take part. The con artists make the scam seem innocent, harmless and risk-free. They usually offer an inducement, like free steaks, movie tickets or car washes.
Offer cash rebates. They also may offer you a cash "rebate" or inflate the repair bill to cover your deductible. In states that require insurers to waive the deductible for repairing windshields, crooks may mention this loophole to convince you the repairs really are free.
The price you pay
You and your passengers face a serious safety risk. First, the replacement windshield could be cheap, substandard glass that easily cracks or shatters while you're driving. Poor optics also may distort your view of the road and hazards. Second, the crook may install the windshield poorly. The windshield thus can pop out if you're in a crash. Incoming debris then could strike occupants; drivers and passengers could be ejected; and the roof might collapse during a rollover because the windshield is a vital structural component of your vehicle. Third, real repairs can be shoddy. This could make small cracks or nicks quickly grow bigger.
Your auto premium can increase. You've just added a needless claim to your insurance record, which could raise your premiums. Fly-by-night operators also can disappear, leaving you without a warranty or contact person if you have a problem.
You could lose your auto insurance. If a crook secretly charges several windshield replacements against your auto policy, you could lose your coverage because multiple claims within a short period can be grounds for cancellation. Then you'll have the hassle of trying to straighten out your insurance record with your insurer.
Everyone's auto premiums increase. Windshield swindles increase everyone's auto premiums in the longrun because fraud losses get passed onto honest policyholders everywhere.
You could face jail and fines. Making a repair claim for a windshield you know is undamaged could get you convicted for insurance fraud. This can mean jail, fines and a permanent criminal record.
• Just say no if you're approached by a salesperson in a parking lot or other public place... or if the repair firm offers to replace a windshield that isn't damaged... or they offer you cash rebates to offset your deductible, or promise freebies like free car washes.
• Report the incident to your state insurance department.
• Ask your insurance agent and company for reputable windshield-repair firms.
• Some insurance companies will repair small cracks or chips free of charge. You're assured of good — and safe — workmanship at no cost. Contact your insurer instead of an untrained con artist if you have a small ding. When you do business with a windshield installer, follow these tips:
• Make sure the repair firm guarantees all repairs, with a written warranty.
• Be certain the firm has a fixed address, not a pickup truck or PO box address.
• Inspect your bill to make sure charges are honest. If you have chips fixed, for example, were you billed for replacing the entire windshield?
• Check to ensure you aren't billed for a more-expensive windshield than you ordered. Example: tinted v. regular glass.
• Make sure the repair firm listed on the invoice is the same firm that's doing the work.
• Contact your insurance company or agent periodically after the repairs to make sure the windshield firm doesn't make extra claims against your auto policy.