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State fines firm for fraudulent insurance calls

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State regulators imposed a $191,000 civil penalty against a company that they say fraudulently solicited Minnesotans for automotive insurance.

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Texas-based Variable Marketing was ordered to pay $191,185 following an administrative law judge’s findings that the company sold insurance without a license and purported to represent a government entity when contacting consumers. Some of the company’s referrals went to a Cottage Grove insurance agency, according to regulators.

Variable Marketing acted as a “lead generator,” the Minnesota Department of Commerce said Wednesday. Variable Marketing used robo-calls to contact 38,237 Minnesotans in an attempt to sell auto insurance. From those automatically dialed calls, the company would connect consumers to a call center that would in turn direct them to an insurance agent licensed in their state.

The company was paid for transferring roughly 316 calls to a State Farm Insurance agent in Cottage Grove, according to the state. That agency sold at least 20 new policies through Variable Marketing referrals.

A State Farm agent in Cottage Grove could not be reached immediately for comment.

Variable Marketing operated under the name Instant Insurance Marketing, and was not registered to do business in Minnesota. Commerce officials said the company’s recorded message to consumers claimed it was a “public service message” telling licensed drivers they were overpaying for auto insurance and could get an adjusted rate.

“Robo-call solicitations can be annoying but these are actually deceptive, misleading Minnesotans to believe that they are providing information from the government when it is really an insurance sales call,” Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman said in a statement. “Minnesotans should not have to deal with improper sales tricks when looking to protect themselves by purchasing insurance.”

In addition to the civil penalty, the company and a representative were fined $5,000 for failing to respond to a subpoena during the investigation.

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Scott Wente
Scott Wente has been editor at the South Washington County Bulletin since 2011. He worked as a reporter at other Forum Communications newspapers from 2003 to 2011. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.
(651) 459-7600
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