A national life insurance database search engine has netted $3 million in unclaimed benefits for Tennesseans and $6.6 million for Georgians, state commerce officials say.
The program is part of a nationwide effort to match people up with life insurance benefits they didn't realize they were supposed to receive. To sign up, you can register through the Georgia Office of Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner's website (www.oci.ga.gov) or by calling 1-800-656-2298.
The information you provide will go to a database kept by life insurance companies. If your name is a match, the system will alert you to how much you are owed. The data is encrypted to block hackers, Office of Insurance spokesman Glenn Allen said.
Deputy Insurance Commissioner Jay Florence said the service is free. He estimated it takes about 15 minutes to do.
"People pay these premiums to benefit their loved ones when they die," Florence said. "It makes sense to be proactive [and check the database]."
The database is organized by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. In 12 months, 3,300 people in Georgia entered their information, and 589 were in line for benefits. The average benefit received was $11,200.
"A lot of people don't know about this service, haven't thought about it," Florence said. "And if they did, I'm sure our numbers would be a lot bigger."
The effort is part of a lengthy investigation of state regulators into the insurance business, dating back to 2008. At that time, the California Controller's Office audited 80 life insurance companies, finding that many companies were not making an effort to provide beneficiaries with the money they had not claimed, according to a news release by the controller's office.
Florida's Office of Insurance Regulation made a similar finding in 2009.
Florence said one of the key findings was the way some insurance companies used the Social Security Administration's Death Master File. Companies were using it to figure out when they could stop paying annuities to somebody, Florence said. However, they weren't using the same resource to determine which of their policyholders died - and who they were supposed to pay.
Florence said there are a couple of common reasons why somebody may not know they are in line for a life insurance benefit. One, a person changed addresses, but the contact information on the policy was not updated. Also, a woman might change her last name after getting married, making it more difficult for a company to track her down.
In 2011, the NAIC launched a task force to examine the life insurance industries' practices. According to the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, the state has reached settlements with 25 companies, leading to payouts of $7.3 billion in unclaimed benefits. The agreements also led to $2.8 billion to the states.
Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at 423-757-6476 or tjett@times freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @LetsJett.