Insurer closes Tampa sites
By SHANNON BEHNKEN
Published: November 3, 2009
TAMPA – An auto insurance company, popular among those with poor credit, has closed offices and stopped writing policies in some Florida areas, including Tampa.
Nashville-based Direct General Insurance Agency Inc., which sells under the Florida No-Fault and Cash Register brands, closed nine retail stores – five in Tampa, one in West Palm Beach, two in Miami and one in Fort Myers.
In addition, it is no longer writing new auto policies in those areas, said company spokeswoman Courtney Ryder. Current policyholders will not be dropped, she said.
The decision to close offices and suspend underwriting is based on an on-going fraud investigation, Ryder said. She declined to release details, but said the company is experiencing “extraordinary levels of losses,” and is cooperating with a criminal investigation.
The news frustrated customers, particularly because they were not notified of the changes.
Insurance companies are not required to notify the state or customers unless they plan to completely cease writing policies or drop at least 1,000 policies. Notification is not required to close offices.
Althea Conklin showed up at her auto insurance agency Friday with her monthly payment. But there was no one there to take her money.
She and about 15 others found the doors to Florida No-Fault Insurance Agency locked. There was sign with a phone number taped to the door of the office, near Highway 60 and U.S. 301.
Customers who call the number hear a recorded message that says the company is no longer writing policies in this area “due to current conditions in Florida.” “I go there every month to make my payments,” Conklin said. “I’m a single mother and make minimum wage.”
The store closings are intended to be temporary, Ryder said. She said customers can call the company’s customer service line at 1-877-GODIRECT (1-877-463-4738) or go through its Web site at www.directgeneral.com.
But Conklin said that is not an option for her and others who don’t have credit cards. That’s part of the reason she chose No-Fault in the first place.
“I don’t have a computer and can’t pay over the phone because I don’t have a debit or credit card,” said Conklin, who drove from Plant City to hand-deliver payments at the Brandon office. “I’m not the only one. There were a lot of people in the parking lot. We don’t know what to do.”
Helen Barja, a No-Fault customer for seven years, said the company has not notified her, and she was worried her policy would expire.
“I just renewed my policy last month,” Barja said.
The companies continue to write and sell new business outside the affected areas. Direct General Insurance Agency has nearly 100 retail stores throughout Florida.