Canadian Underwriter

Why this purported ‘brokerage’ website caught RIBO’s eye

May 30, 2021   by Greg Meckbach

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Hidden Ace Brokerage, which purports to be “fighting high insurance rates” in the greater Toronto area, and says it “takes pride in delivering the quotes that insurance companies don’t want you to see,” is not authorized to place home or auto insurance in Ontario, warns the Registered Insurance Brokers of Ontario.

One feature of the “Hidden Ace Brokerage” site that caught brokers’ attention is that the organization offers commissions of up to $50 a sale to website visitors who sign up for Hidden Ace’s “affiliate” program.

“Commissions can be paid for all sorts of things in other industries and markets, but are regulated in financial services, so it gets a bit tricky from a legal definition as to the legalities of what they say on their website,” Colin Simpson, CEO of the Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario, told Canadian Underwriter in an interview Friday.

RIBO contacted IBAO a few weeks ago asking whether IBAO had any complaints about Hidden Ace, Simpson told Canadian Underwriter.

In a press release Thursday, RIBO said Hidden Ace is not a RIBO-registered brokerage and is not authorized to sell auto, property or casualty insurance to the public in Ontario.

Canadian Underwriter asked Hidden Ace Friday for its mailing address, legal corporate name, whether the company is licenced by RIBO, who the owners are, and whether Hidden Ace employs licenced brokers. As of press time, Canadian Underwriter had not heard back from Hidden Ace.

“We don’t know who is operating it,” said Tim Goff, RIBO’s director of complaints and investigations. “They have been unresponsive to our queries, which is what led to the issuance of the press release. That fact that they have not responded just tightens the concern.”

RIBO indicated that it started to look into Hidden Ace after hearing information from multiple sources. RIBO is not aware of any consumers who have tried to do business with Hidden Ace, said Goff.

“We don’t know what their objective is. If it was simply a quote engine, there would be no reason for them not to get back to us,” said Goff.

“Every consumer has to be more aware of who they are dealing with. It’s like buying anything off the Internet,” Simpson told Canadian Underwriter Friday.

“If anyone were even suggesting on a quote engine that they could provide coverage through the website, or if it appeared that they were holding themselves out as a brokerage, [RIBO] would be in touch with them,” said Goff.

On its website, Hidden Ace lists a phone number and email address. It also has a Frequently Asked Questions page containing information on different types of auto insurance coverage and how insurers tend to rate auto risk.

Visitors to the website are greeted with a chatbot. A reporter who visited the site was greeted, within a split second, by a chatbot identifying itself as “Lexi.” The chatbot asks the visitor to enter their full name into the chatbot in order to “get started” on a quote for home and/or auto insurance.

“Our mission is to fight the high insurance rates the people of the GTA are faced with, we take pride in delivering the quotes that insurance companies don’t want you to see! The rates we discover are generally 20-40% lower than what clients are paying!” claims Hidden Ace.

“It is probably tricky for a consumer to discern [if an organization] is not a valid broker, but that’s why we have regulators,” said Simpson. “It is not surprising that someone would try to create a website to look as professional as possible to attract people.”

The Hidden Ace site has a link titled “Earn with Us.”  That link takes you to a page with a web form that consumers can use to earn a commission. Its purported commission structure uses playing card terminology. For example, an “Ace” with 50 referrals is said to get $50 per sale, while a “King” with 30 referrals can get $40 a sale.

“If YOU want to be apart of the movement to SAVE money AND GET PAID to help others save money;  NOW YOU CAN!!,” claims Hidden Ace.

Simpson told Canadian Underwriter Friday that when he checked out Hidden Ace a few weeks ago, he discovered it was claiming to place insurance for Sonnet and The Co-operators. On Friday, Canadian Underwriter was unable to find a reference on the Hidden Ace website to any of Hidden Ace’s purported insurance carrier partners.

Those references appear to have been removed, Simpson observed. “The website has clearly been amended since I last looked at it a couple of weeks ago.”

Two weeks ago, at least half a dozen insurers were listed as purported partners of Hidden Ace, said RIBO’s Goff. It included several insurers’ logos plus RIBO’s logo.

RIBO contacted the purported carrier partners, and they denied having contracts with Hidden Ace, said Goff.

Generally speaking, one way to “hoodwink” a consumer is to hold yourself out as an insurance broker and take payment over the phone, said Simpson.

The consumer may find “either nothing showing up for your money, or maybe fraudulent pink slips could show up,” said Simpson. “Consumers should have time to take consideration of whatever they are being told and check it before they make a purchase.”

One such check would be to run the name of a purported broker through the RIBO website.

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