The Tampa (Florida) Tribune reported last week that Nashville-based Direct General Insurance Agency, Inc., an auto insurance company catering to clients with dented credit, which does business in the Sunshine state under the names Florida No-Fault and Cash Register, has closed nine retail stores.
The retail sites which have been closed are spread throughout Florida, with five in the Tampa area, two in Miami, and one each in West Palm Beach and Fort Myers. In addition to the retail closures, Direct General has ceased issuing new auto insurance policies in those areas, though Courtney Ryder, speaking on behalf of the company, stated that current policyholders would not be dropped.
Ryder explained that the decision to suspend underwriting and close retail offices is due to an active fraud investigation. She also said the company is experiencing “…extraordinary levels of losses…” but refrained from divulging details.
Florida-based customers of Direct General are frustrated because they were not notified of the closures or policy changes, but according to state law, insurance companies are only required to inform customers – or the state – if they plan to discontinue writing policies altogether, or are dropping 1,000 or more existing policies. No notification is required when offices are closed.
One customer, Althea Conklin, showed up at the Florida No-Fault Insurance Agency near Highway 60 and U.S. 301 to make her monthly payment, only to find the offices empty, the doors locked, and a sign with a phone number taped to the door. At least fourteen other customers shared the same experience.
Callers to the phone number are greeted by a recorded message explaining that the company is no longer writing policies in the area, “…due to current conditions in Florida.”
Conklin told the Tribune, “I go there every month to make my payments. I’m a single mother and make minimum wage.”
Courtney Ryder is quick to add that the store closings are not meant to be permanent, and that customers can pay their bills by calling the company’s toll-free customer service line (1-877-463-4738) or online at directgeneral.com.
Althea Conklin has a problem with those options, however. “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.” She also explained that she chose the company because of their physical presence in the area.
Another customer, Helen Barja, has been a No Fault customer for seven years, and worried that her policy, which renewed last month, would expire, since the company never notified her of store closings.
Direct General continues to write new policies outside the affected areas, and still maintains almost 100 retail facilities in Florida.