Troubleshooter: Windshield fraud growing, costing drivers money

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - Windshield insurance fraud is a multi-million dollar problem that impacts anyone who drives a car. It can threaten your pocketbook and your safety, and it's happening right here in Kentucky.

The WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department watched windshield salesmen from DNS Auto Glass in Louisville go door to door and car to car in the Newburg neighborhood, eventually making their way to our undercover vehicle.

"All we're doing is seeing if anybody's got the damage, and if you have full comprehensive coverage, we'll get it replaced for you for free." salesman Brandon Carter said.

The undercover video then showed Carter inspecting the windshield. "Oh you got you a good chip right here," he said, pointing out a chip smaller than the size of a pencil head.

Even though that chip was so small we could barely see it, Carter said it was enough to get the windshield replaced at no cost to us.

"All we do is we call your insurance company," he told us, "and we let 'em know you have the damage."

Carter said the insurance company had to give us a new windshield for free because Kentucky is one of four states where drivers with full comprehensive coverage cannot be charged a deductible when a windshield is replaced due to cracks or chips that obstruct the driver's view.

But a former DNS employee said the tactic is just a way for the auto glass company to make money.

"The windshields just aren't broken when I get there," the former DNS windshield installer said.

The installer came to the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter to blow the whistle on DNS Auto Glass after he quit working for the company because of a dispute over a paycheck. He asked to remain anonymous. He said he watched DNS salesmen file hundreds of insurance claims over an eight-month period for windshields that didn't need to be replaced.

"Their game is, if it doesn't get installed, no one gets paid," the installer said.

He showed us a dozen windshields he said he replaced even though they weren't broken.

"No cracks, no chips," he said as he pointed out the windshields he keeps in his backyard.

"This is not broken," he said of another, slamming the back glass from a pickup truck into a fence to make his point.

The installer also produced the bills that went to the insurance company.

"This windshield cost my company $90," he said as he pointed to a billing statement from an installation he said he did for DNS. "Look at what they can bill for $1,046.04."

Jim Larson, president of Auto Glass Inspection Services in Arizona, investigates windshield fraud for insurance companies. He said it's a multi-million dollar problem that's just now hitting Kentucky. We asked Larson to inspect the windshield the DNS salesman told us needed to be replaced.

"The windshield is in perfect condition," Larson said.

We then asked Larson if he would consider it insurance fraud to file a claim to replace that windshield.

"I would think so, yes," Larson answered.

We showed our hidden camera video to Clark Williams, Director of the Kentucky Insurance Fraud Investigation Division.

"That's that's very problematic," Williams said of the video. Williams also said it is characteristic of the rise in windshield insurance fraud hitting Kentucky. The problem is especially bad in Jefferson County where elderly and low-income drivers are common targets. Williams said his office has around a half-dozen open investigations into suspected fraud, although he declined to say whether they involve DNS Auto Glass.

"And we've gotten a lot more referrals that we've received and complaints we've received than maybe are under investigation," Williams said. "So it is a very significant problem."

It's a problem that Williams and Larson both say drives up auto insurance premiums for everyone because companies pass the losses on to drivers. Larson said there's also a safety risk because the installation work done by some of these companies is as suspect as the sales pitch.

When we confronted Brandon Carter, the DNS salesman we caught on hidden camera, Carter searched for answers.

"You feel that?" Carter said, pointing to the same chip he had found weeks earlier. But when we told Carter auto glass experts said the windshield did not need to be replaced, Carter got angry and cut off the interview.

"Man, I don't care. You all are going to have to get out of my face," Carter said, getting into his car to leave.

Carter also denied he was trying to rip off the insurance company. As he drove off, we asked Carter if he thought his actions were raising everyone's insurance rates.

"Do you think you need to get the (expletive) out of my face," Carter shot back.

Multiple calls to DNS's registered agent, Jeff Searles, were not returned. But DNS has not been charged with any crimes in Kentucky and attorneys said what the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter caught on hidden camera would not constitute a crime because the insurance claim was never actually filed.

Records uncovered by the WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Department reveal Searles is also operating DNS offices in Florida and South Carolina, two other states with zero deductible laws for windshield replacement. Florida and South Carolina also rank number one and four respectively in the states with questionable auto glass claims according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

Also near the top of that list? Arizona. Where DNS is head quartered.

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