Big insurer is watching you

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Fraudbusting, with its images of shadowy private detectives and darkened car windows, seems a world apart from the average insurance company office.

But, as page 14 details, your insurer may be watching you. Insurers are increasingly turning to investigators to check out whether claims are fraudulent.

Genuine claimants will never know they have been watched, we are told, and husbands may no longer be able to rely on the life insurance payout if they (literally) knock off their wives.

Of course, the lengths insurers seem prepared to go to in their clampdown have absolutely no connection with the widespread perception that they would rather not cough up at all, however genuine the claim.

In fact, so keen are insurers to emphasise that fraudbusting is good for honest policy holders and how genuine claimants need not worry, that they even offer the following tips for getting a claim paid. (The list also includes judicious additions from me.)

Provide requested information and receipts as quickly as possible. Avoid sending photocopies of receipts - these may raise suspicions you have claimed before. If you don't have a receipt for, say, a camera send in a photocopy of an Argos catalogue entry for the model (or the closest) or the original instructions.

Check your policy for time limits for claims or reporting incidents. With travel policies, there is often a requirement to get a police report within 48 hours of a theft.

Wildly embellishing incidents may make your claim stand out as suspicious.

Be firm but polite when chasing. If you treat claims' handlers like bureaucrats, they may well act the part.

Most insurers are members of the free claims arbitration service run by the Insurance Ombudsman. But you must exhaust the insurer's complaints procedure first.

If the ombudsman rules against you, you can still go to the small claims court (cost around pounds 50).

The Association of British Insurers also has free information sheets, "Claiming on your home insurance policy" and "What to do when making a motor insurance claim" (0171-600 3333).

Further tips from readers would be appreciated.

Privatisations are not one-way bets. Witness the price fall-out suffered by investors in British Energy - the recent sell-off of the nuclear industry. This week another privatisation-related flop reared its ugly head.

Two years ago 150,000 investors shovelled pounds 1bn into two investment funds that hoped to capitalise on copycat Continental privatisations.

Last November I wrote about potential revolts by shareholders in these much-hyped funds - managed by two of the City's most blue-chip firms - because of their dismal performances.

Losses have shrunk since - investors in one, Mercury European Privatisation, are even, finally, making a profit.

But only this week has the other fund, Kleinwort Benson's, got its act together and come up with proposals that guarantee to further cut investors' losses almost overnight. Its previous proposals have not offered any such certainties.

The delay is one thing, but it also noteworthy that it took a takeover bid by another pukka City name to galvanise Kleinworts into action.

The real lesson from all this is that just because an investment is a privatisation - or "tax-free" or "guaranteed" - it does not make it any more of a cert than the archetypal tip over a tipple.