About three years ago, a Northwest Washington man's apartment was burglarized. "I had no real insurance protection," he said, "and thought maybe I had better look into something."

The government worker discovered a little-known federal crime insurance program which seemed reasonable and bought a policy "just to have some protection."

Last Christmas he was robbed about two blocks from his apartment. "I dropped the gift I was carrying, which was taken along with ny watch, two rings and my wallet."

Because he had coverage, he was able to recoup most of his loss from the robbery.

The insurance, Federal Crime Insurance, is available from private brokers under the sponsorship of the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Cost for household insurance (which covered both the apartment and the street robbery): $20 to $40 for $1,000 worth of protection.

Household insurance protection may be purchased in amounts up to $10,000 and business insurance in amounts up to $15,000.

The costs are determined according to an area's crime rating. In a low-crime area, $1,000 worth of household-crime insurance would cost $20 a year; in medium-crime areas, $30; in high-crime areas, $40.

Rates for nonresidential business coverage are based on the class and location of the business, as well as gross receipts from the previous year. For example, a grocery store located in a high-crime area with receipts under $100,000 would pay $120 a year for $1,000 worth of coverage.

There is a deductible of $50 or 5 percent of the gross value of the stolen item, whichever is greater. As with any insurance, a number of requirements must be met in order to file a claim. Among them: 1) all crimes must be reported to the police; 2) in the case of a burglary, there must be visible signs of forcible entry; and 3) certain protective devices, such as bolts and locks, are required on homes or apartments.

Claims are paid by HUD, which administers the program through the Federal Insurance Administration (FIA), now being reorganized into the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

HUD decided to implement the program because of numerous complaints from homeowners, tenants and business owners who said many insurance companies were denying renewals for crime insurance, and new policies were difficult to get.

The program is available in 23 states, including the District, Maryland and Virginia. It is reported that HUD quickly processes the claims submitted by the private insurance agents. Since commissions are fairly low and the paperwork involved can be extensive, many private agents are reluctant to market the insurance, according to one New York broker who handles the coverage.

This reluctance explains in part why the insurance initially sold so poorly.

Another reason for its slow acceptance is the lack of insurance agents in the inner cities, where the protection is needed most. But now that both crime and crime insurance rates are increasing, the federal program is receiving more attention.

As of September there were 428 policies in effect in the District, according to Willy Taylor, an FIA staffer.

He added that "a pilot-demonstration project is being set up in five cities -- Denver, St. Louis, Miami, Chicago and Philadelphia -- to inform community groups about the program." If the project is successful, Taylor said, similar projects may be offered in other cities.

For those who would like more information about federal crime insurance, HUD has set up a toll-free number: 800-638-8780. Or, interested persons may write: Federal Crime Insurance, P.O. Box 41033, Washington, D.C. 20014.