How a ‘shady’ insurance lawyer sucked homeowners
into his alleged ripoff scheme
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
By Ron Hurtibise
December 10, 2020
It can happen to anyone: Someone knocks on your door
and says they’re a repairman or an insurance expert and can fix damage
to your home at no cost to you. They might say they can get you a new
roof. Or a new kitchen.
Your insurance company will get the bill, they’ll say, and you won’t be
out a penny.
Watch out. You’re about to be sucked into a thriving insurance scam
that’s enriching a handful of law firms, threatening the financial
stability of Florida’s home insurance industry and driving up annual
premiums for millions of homeowners who have never filed a claim.
A newly filed complaint against one of the state’s
most notorious insurance attorneys lays out the alleged scheme.
After you agree to accept their help,
your visitor will hand you their tablet or cellphone and ask
for your signature, saying it’s needed to hire their
company. You’ll sign it without scrolling up.
But rather than hiring a repair firm or public insurance
adjuster, you’ve actually hired a lawyer. And though you
might never be told about it, you are about to become the
plaintiff in a lawsuit against your insurance company.
Why should you worry? The lawsuit, and your claim, will be
recorded in an insurance database that follows you like a
credit report. Your insurer might cancel you for being a bad
risk. Your next insurance policy, if you can find one, will
likely cost a lot more money.
This is the scheme that home insurance companies say is
largely to blame for annual premiums increasing as much as
30% to 40% right now for homeowners across the state.
It’s been run for years by a small number
of crooked law firms, about 25 statewide, working with
crooked repair contractors and crooked “loss consultants”
operating illegally as public insurance adjusters, insurers
Four complaints against insurance attorney Scot
Strems allege scams that insurance companies say are sharply
increasing premiums for Floridians who have never filed a claim.
Scot Strems, a Coral Gables-based insurance attorney, built an empire
this way, according to a recent complaint filed with the Florida Supreme
Court by the Florida Bar, the licensing authority for lawyers who
operate in the state. Overseeing 20 attorneys in six offices across the
state, Strems targeted thousands of homeowners he and his cohorts knew
wouldn’t ask too many questions, “including the elderly, immigrants, and
people of humble means and education,” the complaint says.
They chose targets they thought “were unlikely to recognize the
impropriety of the scheme” and more likely to remain “blindfolded” to
their unethical conduct, the suit states.
State records show that Strems filed 8,756 lawsuits against property
insurers between May 2014 and June 2020, when the Supreme Court
suspended him indefinitely in response to a separate ethics complaint.
Of those suits, at least 1,620 were filed in Broward County, 500 in Palm
Beach County and 2,700 in Miami-Dade County.
Strems routinely used people who weren’t employees of his law firm to
hunt down new business, the complaint says.
The Florida Bar declined to comment on the case beyond the specific
allegations filed with the Supreme Court. Strems’ attorney, Mark A.
Kamilar, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. In
response to a separate suit filed by the Florida Bar against Strems in
June that resulted in his indefinite suspension from practicing law,
Kamilar said that Strems strongly disputed the allegations and looked
forward to presenting his defense before the Supreme Court.
‘A warning to all the shady players’
Amy Rosen, chief marketing officer for Deerfield Beach-based People’s
Trust Insurance Co., said the insurance industry hopes that the cases
against Strems “serve as a warning to all the shady players that they
will get caught and we will not let them get away with their deceptive
and illegal behavior anymore.” She added, “Over time, we hope this helps
to bring premiums back down to the rates commensurate with the actual
cost of doing business without any fraud involved.”
Legitimate public adjusters — who by law are licensed to knock on doors
and offer to help homeowners file claims and negotiate settlements — are
seeing their reputations tainted by illegal solicitors who claim to be
public adjusters, said Timothy Cornett, president of the Florida
Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. The organization has
submitted hundreds of examples to the state Department of Financial
Services, which so far has refused to investigate them, association
The Florida Bar’s most recent complaint against Strems lays out accounts
of homeowners who said they found themselves caught in Strems’ web after
talking with people who promised to work with their insurance companies
to get their homes repaired.
Several said they had no idea they had signed a contract hiring Strems
Law Firm to represent them. Others insisted they signed nothing and said
that someone else signed their names on Strems’ paperwork.
According to the complaint:
Evans Civil of Boca Raton said he was visited after Hurricane Irma by a
man who pledged to help him file an insurance claim. His insurer, United
Property & Casualty, soon received a letter from Strems’ firm stating
that Civil was Strems’ client. Civil denied signing anything with Strems’
firm or speaking face to face with anyone from the firm.
Manuel Pena of Kissimmee said he spoke after Hurricane Irma with a
worker from the firm Contender Claims Consultants Inc. After inspecting
Pena’s home, the employee presented Pena with a piece of paper that Pena
thought was a repair estimate. Pena signed it, not knowing it was the
signature page for a Strems Law Firm retainer agreement, he said. Later,
he received a signed and executed fee agreement, even though he did not
want to be represented by an attorney.
Iris Reves, a 75-year-old homeowner in Miami, answered her door to two
Contender employees who said they were combing her neighborhood for
“homeowners with damages in order to represent them before their
insurance companies.” Even though she declined their services and
refused to sign their tablet, a few days later she received a Strems fee
agreement that she “adamantly denies” having signed.
Martha Vasquez, an Osceola County homeowner, said she thought she was
hiring a public adjuster when an employee of Let Us Claim Consultants
Insurance Inc. handed her some papers to sign. But the company wasn’t a
public adjusting firm, and by signing the employee’s documents, she was
actually hiring Strems. “At no time did he ever tell me I was going to
be represented by a law firm,” the Bar complaint quoted her as saying.
Let Us Claim Consultants eventually sent repair workers to her home who
left behind holes in ceilings and kitchen baseboards and tore up
Vasquez’s dishwasher, she said.
Officials of Contender Claims Consultants and Let Us Claim did not
immediately respond to a request for comment about the complaint.
The charges against Strems
The Florida Bar’s complaint accuses Strems of violating several ethics
rules, including a ban on direct solicitation of clients by attorneys or
anyone acting on their behalf. Other alleged violations include failure
to obtain clients’ consent before taking actions on their behalf, and
failure to consult personally with clients and abide by clients’
decisions about what the client wants the attorney to accomplish.
Strems also violated rules requiring lawyers to be truthful, the
Strems is actually facing four separate Florida Bar complaints to the
Supreme Court, which can impose an array of punishments up to and
including disbarment. An attorney at his firm is facing a separate
complaint by the Florida Bar.
One of the complaints accuses Strems’ firm of hiding from clients the
amount of money it negotiated in their cases and keeping for itself far
more more than the standard 25% it disclosed to clients.
One of Strems’ attorneys told an 85-year-old client and her son that
their insurer offered $30,000, of which $7,500 would go to the firm, the
complaint says. But the firm did not disclose reaching a separate
settlement for $45,000 and keeping the additional $15,000, according to
Similar allegations are outlined in a sprawling lawsuit against Strems
filed in June by Citizens Property Insurance Corp. accusing Strems and
his associates of running a racketeering operation in violation of the
federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.
How you can help stop the fraud
Illegal solicitation of insurance claims is exploding throughout Florida
and driving up insurance costs for everyone, says Paul Handerhan,
president of the Federal Association for Insurance Reform, a
consumer-focused watchdog group based in Fort Lauderdale.
“It’s pretty rampant, the amount of unlicensed solicitation going on,
where these third parties are going around and driving business to these
attorneys, which is illegal,” he said.
Consumers need to be careful when responding to insurance claim
solicitors, said Locke Burt, founder and CEO of Ormond Beach-based
Security First Insurance.
“What the lawyers don’t tell them is if they don’t get the insurance
company to pay, then the homeowner is on the hook for their legal fees,”
Burt said. “It’s in the fine print. They can put a lien against their
house that [the insured] won’t find out about until they go to sell
In addition, any homeowner who files more than three claims within three
years becomes uninsurable by state-regulated insurers and even Citizens,
the state-run insurer of last resort, Handerhan said. That leaves
homeowners vulnerable to “force-placed” insurance by their mortgage
holder, which is typically high-cost coverage from unregulated
Predatory attorneys will often turn a single claim into three or four —
say, one for damage in each room of the house — so they can file
multiple lawsuits to collect multiple legal fees, he said.
When homeowners get a knock on their door, “the first thing you should
do is get their card and ask who they are,” Burt said. “If they are not
a public adjuster, they’re committing a felony.”
He added: “If they ask you to sign a fee retainer (to hire an attorney),
they’re committing a misdemeanor. If he says, ‘I’ll take care of
everything’ and he’s not a public adjuster, that’s a problem. If he
says, ‘I’ll get it for you for free,’ that’s a crime. Because no one
gets something for nothing. Everyone pays a deductible. Don’t sign
something you haven’t read. If you do sign something, get a copy of it.”
He advises consumers: “If you see something, say something. Tell your
insurance agent. Tell your insurance company. Tell law enforcement.”