In­surer’s TV mes­sage runs afoul of state law, con­sumer group says

Austin American-Statesman - - BUSINESS & PERSONAL FINANCE - By Tim Ea­ton

A tele­vi­sion com­mer­cial ad­ver­tis­ing in­surer the Trav­el­ers Cos. Inc. is de­cep­tive and should be stopped, a Texas con­sumer ad­vo­cacy group said Tues­day.

Texas Watch Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Alex Winslow has writ­ten to both Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Greg Abbott and Texas In­surance Com­mis­sioner Mike Geeslin, seek­ing a cease­and-de­sist or­der to keep the ad off the air in Texas.

In the advertisement, ti­tled “Driv­ing Your House,” a man is seen driv­ing through the desert in what ap­pears to be a wall-less house on wheels. The man gets into an ac­ci­dent, which spreads the house’s con­tents across the desert road­side.

As the home­owner-driver flies through the air — along with fur­ni­ture and a cat — a voiceover says: “With­out the right auto in­surance, a crash might im­pact more than your car. Make sure you’re prop­erly cov­ered, so when you’re driv­ing your car, you’re not

risk­ing your house.”

The ad con­cludes with the tagline: “Trav­el­ers. Take the scary out of life.”

Winslow said the mes­sage im­plies that if home­own­ers don’t carry ad­e­quate au­to­mo­bile in­surance, then they could lose their homes. But the Texas Con­sti­tu­tion has homestead pro­tec­tions that pre­vent the forced sale of a home in most cir­cum­stances, Winslow said.

“What’s par­tic­u­larly trou­bling about this ad is that it is prey­ing on the fears that many peo­ple have about los­ing their home in our cur­rent eco­nomic cri­sis,” Winslow said. “In­surance com­pa­nies shouldn’t be al­lowed to de­ceive their cus­tomers into buy­ing more over­priced in­surance.”

Trav­el­ers rep­re­sen­ta­tives de­clined to com­ment Tues­day.

Jerry Hagins, a spokesman for the Texas Depart­ment of In­surance, said his of­fice has re­ceived the let­ter and that staff mem­bers have been as­signed to re­view the mat­ter. “We’re very concerned about an ad of this na­ture,” he said, “and we’ll com­mu­ni­cate with the com­pany quickly.”

The state in­surance depart­ment and at­tor­ney gen­eral each have the author­ity to de­mand that a com­pany stop run­ning an ad.

Tom Kel­ley, a spokesman for Abbott, said his of­fice also re­ceived the let­ter from Texas Watch. He said the in­surance prac­tices attorneys will re­view it, as they have done in sim­i­lar cases.

In 2005, Abbott is­sued a cease and de­sist or­der to the All­state Corp. af­ter the com­pany ran an ad that fea­tured a fam­ily that lost its home and sav­ings be­cause it didn’t carry enough au­to­mo­bile in­surance. In a let­ter, Abbott’s of­fice told All­state that the ad vi­o­lated the state’s De­cep­tive Trade Prac­tices-Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act and the state’s in­surance code.

All­state pulled the ad, so no law­suit was nec­es­sary, Kel­ley said.

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