The Color of Money: What information to share after an auto accident
Thankfully, I haven’t been in many automobile accidents. But the one major crash I was in involving another driver, I took down quite a bit of information.
The accident wasn’t my fault. Nonetheless, I wanted to make sure the other driver wouldn’t try to change his story after I contacted his insurance company. I had my reporter’s notebook handy and took down the guy’s driver’s license number, insurance information, home telephone number (it was long before cellphones were ubiquitous) and his home address. I even collected similar information from a witness to the accident. When I called to report the crash, the claims representative was impressed with how thorough I had been.
It turns out that most of the information I gathered could have put the driver and the witness in jeopardy of identity theft, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). But this was years before crooks really knew how valuable personal information can be.
It would appear I’m not alone in what information I mistakenly think needs to be collected following an auto accident. You generally need to give the other driver only your name and insurance information, which should include the name and phone number of your insurance provider.
Don’t share personal information, such as your driver’s license number, home address or even your telephone number, the association says.
And yet 40 percent of the people surveyed by the association felt they had to give their driver’s license numbers. One in six would permit the other driver to photograph their licenses as a quick way to exchange information. The problem is that your driver’s license number — after your Social Security number and date of birth — is commonly used to verify your identity. A quarter of the survey participants said that after an accident, they would share their home addresses (letting a stranger know where you live). Almost 30 percent of drivers think they are required to share their personal phone numbers.
I understand the desire to collect as much information as possible. It’s probably what your mama or daddy told you to do. And if the accident isn’t your fault, you want to make sure the other driver’s insurance company covers the cost.
More than 5 million auto crashes occur every year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2010, more than 3,000 people were killed in distracted-driving crashes, and 416,000 people were injured.
The last thing you are probably thinking about after an accident is someone stealing your identity. But what if the accident is staged for the specific purpose of stealing your personal information?
“It’s very chaotic and intense after an accident and, as a result, most people have a tendency to give out more information than they should,” said Kevin M. McCarty, NAIC president and Florida insurance commissioner. “Certainly, staged accidents are a very common way to defraud consumers and insurance companies. You have to be careful by only sharing information that is vital to complete the accident report.”
To help you take the guesswork out of what information to share, the NAIC has developed a mobile application, “WreckCheck.” The app takes you step-by-step through what you should do immediately after an accident. You get easy prompts that recommend, among other things, that you take pictures of the license plate and landmarks and record a description of what happened.
The app will allow you to e-mail to yourself or your insurance company an accident report. It’s free and available for both iPhone and Android smartphones. However, you have to have at least a 3GS iPhone to download the app. I have the older 3G iPhone. So no app for me. Although the majority of Android users should be able to get the app, some with newer, smarter phones may not be able to download it, according to the NAIC.
Don’t worry, though: You can still get the information the old-fashioned way. NAIC offers a downloadable form at www.insureuonline.org. Once on the site, click on the link for “Auto” and scroll to the bottom of the page to access the link to the accident checklist and tips. Keep a copy in your glove compartment. Please note that the downloadable form and the mobile app have a place to collect driver’s license information, with an asterisk noting that such information is not required. You would try to get this information if the driver would not provide or did not have insurance information and you were put in the position of needing to collect as much information as possible.
By the way, nearly 20 survey participants thought you should call the police only if someone is injured.
You should always call the police. Some local jurisdictions might not dispatch an officer to the scene, but call anyway. Later, find out how you can file an accident report — especially if you aren’t the one at fault.
Readers can write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or email@example.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.