North Carolina drivers enjoy some of the lowest car insurance rates in the country, but the ABC11 I-Team found that insurance companies may soon consider your online footprint to charge you a higher rate.
The I-Team has previously reported on how some insurers are already reviewing social media. Melina Efthimiadis, of Timberlake, had almost lost her life insurance policy because of concerns over pictures posted online. The pictures included photos of Efthimiadis' dogs, which the insurance company found issue because of their breed.
"Be careful about what you post on Facebook," Efthimiadis warned to ABC11 Troubleshooter Diane Wilson. "It's sad that you can't post pictures of your beloved pet on your own Facebook page and have it public, but unfortunately I had to go and change some of my pictures just to feel more comfortable about it."
Social media pages, however, are not the focus of the Zebra's latest report on trends in the car insurance industry. Instead, it's about online behaviors, including how, when and where users interact with websites and their internet connected devices.
According to The Zebra, an international insurance watchdog, companies worldwide are gaining greater access to this data.
"Insurance companies are painting themselves a picture of someone who's scrolling through their mobile device," Alyssa Connolly, an analyst at The Zebra, explained to ABC11. "They look at things like what time of day or night they're shopping online, what kind of browser they're using, what kind of device they have, what kind of social profile. All of that information could say something differentiates that type of consumer."
In North Carolina, insurers cannot discriminate based on age or gender, but some insurance companies consider education, marital status and credit scores before offering a policy to the applicant. If the insurance company does choose to underwrite that policy, then the insurer can adjust the rate based on factors already approved by the North Carolina Rate Bureau, including a driver's record on the road.
"Any changes to the structure in North Carolina would have to be proposed and filed by the N.C. Rate Bureau and approved by the N.C. Department of Insurance," a spokesperson for the NCDOI said in an email to ABC11. "Insurance companies can also file discounts off the Rate Bureau rates in order to benefit their policyholders."
Looking to the future, The Zebra studied trends across the globe and explored theoretical ways in which insurers could one day assess rates based on online preferences.
What phone or computer you use to look for insurance:
Android phone -- add 2.25 percent or $32.07
iPhone -- add 4.93 percent or $70.37
Desktop/laptop -- save 5.49 percent or $78.30
What time of day you look for insurance:
Midnight to 6 a.m. -- add 4.04 percent or $57.70
6 a.m. to noon -- save 1.22 percent or $17.37
"What it could mean is that someone who has an Apple device versus Android device means they're more financially stable and have more money to pay for car insurance," Connolly said.
Again, The Zebra's estimations are just that -- estimations -- and insurers can't start adjusting rates like this until they get approval from the Rate Bureau.
Insurance agents, however, are telling the I-Team that companies are unquestionably studying the possibilities in order to better assess risk and financial futures.
"The amount of data out there today is so massive it's hard to keep up with," Stuart Powell, a Raleigh-based agent for the 45 years, told ABC11. "Finding patterns in that data and finding whether patterns are relevant to potential for losses is the real trick."
According to Powell, insurers themselves are studying their own risks when it comes to using the data because any miscalculations could end up costing them - and their customers.
"You can draw a correlation between this and that, but whether this causes that is another level of evaluation that has to be made and that's where more experimentation has to be made. Somebody has to cover the losses. There's no tooth fairy in this situation. There's got to be money there to cover the losses."
To learn more about car insurance in North Carolina, visit the North Carolina's Department of Insurance's webpage.