If you're fed up with your car insurance company, a new website wants to hear about it.
The aptly named InsuranceComplaint.com lets you gripe to your heart's content - as long as you keep it clean and fairly reasonable.
You can post your complaint for the world to see and skim through complaints from other consumers. And, if you'd like, you can request a referral to an attorney, public insurance adjuster, auto appraiser or other professional to help you resolve the problem.
"We wanted to level the playing field so you don't feel like you're out there alone," co-founder Michael Grady says.
The site posts complaints about all types of insurance -- auto, life, health, home, business and others -- gathers articles about insurance from news outlets and industry organizations, and features a listing of where to get professional help. It also maintains statistics on which insurers and what types of situations generate the most complaints.
So far the site has received more than 500 complaints. The most gripes are about auto, boat and motorcycle insurance, followed by home insurance. Health insurance runs a distant third, followed by life, disability, business and travel insurance.
On the flip side, Insure.com uses the experiences of 5,600 insurance customers to produce its annual Best Insurance Companies rankings. For 2013, USAA, American General and Kaiser Permanente scored highest in their categories.
Finding complaint patterns
At InsuranceComplaint.com, delays are the most common reason for complaints, followed by claim denials, unsatisfactory settlements and inadequate service. (See "Faster checks, but slower repairs.")
Grady says the statistics could help uncover patterns of bad practices in the industry, which perhaps in some cases could help form a basis for investigation by regulators or class-action lawsuits. Sometimes the posting of a complaint leads to resolution before things turn ugly, thanks to eagle-eyed insurance professionals.
"We know the site is being monitored by the industry," Grady says. "Insurance companies are actually responding back to claimants sometimes, which we think is great."
The companies also monitor Twitter and Facebook feeds, says Insurance.com managing editor Michelle Megna, whose site periodically examines how the big carriers use social media.
"They won't refer you to a lawyer, of course," she says, "but they'll usually point you to the right phone number or e-mail address."
Big industry players, such as Allstate, State Farm, Farmers and Geico, have the most complaints against them on InsuranceComplaint.com. But that's predictable -- they have more customers than small, regional companies.
Inspired by a bad claims experience
Grady, a former public insurance adjuster, started the site with Peter Nicolas, a former client. Nicolas hired Grady after a fire destroyed his home and all his belongings, and he faced a claim nightmare with his home insurer.
Public insurance adjusters work on behalf of policyholders on large, complex claims. They help expedite the process with insurers and get their clients what they're entitled to. In return, they get a percentage of the insurance settlement.
"Ultimately we got the settlement we wanted, but afterward we said, 'We need to start an advocacy site,'" Grady says. "People just don't know where to go for help."
Although every state has an insurance department that regulates the insurance industry, the departments don't have time to thoroughly investigate the numerous complaints they receive, Grady says.
Their joint venture makes money through advertising on the site and fees paid by professionals for customer referrals.
The power of posting
Consumer complaint sites aren't new. ConsumerAffairs.com has been publishing complaints against companies in a wide variety of industries, including insurance, since it was launched in 1998.
Founder and editor Jim Hood said his site's database includes about half-a-million active complaints.
"I think just publishing this stuff and putting it out there so everybody can see it is worthwhile," he says. "Thirty years ago, if you had a piece of glass bakeware that blew up in the oven, you'd think it was just something that happened to you."
But now that consumers have a public forum, they can learn that such things are happening to other people, too. ConsumerAffairs.com runs original articles reporting on trends uncovered through complaints, such as the recent reports of exploding bakeware.
The public complaints put pressure on companies to respond. Besides advertising on the site, ConsumerAffairs.com makes money through subscriptions. Companies can subscribe to be notified if a complaint is lodged against them. And, if the complainer wants the company to follow up, the company is given the consumer's contact information to resolve the issue. Hood says he doesn't think any insurers have subscribed yet to his site.
Complaints posted on ConsumerAffairs.com against car insurance companies haven't changed much in the last decade and a half, he says. Most fall into one of three categories.
"People are unhappy with the premium. They're unhappy with the service they get. Or they're unhappy with the settlement after they have an accident," he says.
Besides posting complaints, Hood recommends consumers with gripes about insurers go to their state insurance departments. Each state tracks and investigates complaints.