Progressive Insurance Lies Its Way Into Church Support Group To Dig Up Lawsuit Dirt

Just when you thought insurance companies couldn’t get any sleazier, Progressive Insurance got caught sending private eyes to infiltrate and secretly record an Atlanta area church support group in hopes of digging up dirt to discredit a church couple involved in a car accident lawsuit, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

After headquarters found out, a letter signed by the President of Progressive apologized for the actions and took full responsibility for them. They also pledged to enact new rules and procedures to prevent future occurrences. That may not be enough for the Insurance Commission and authorities, who say they are investigating the matter.

Members of the sessions, each which began with group pledges to keep the discussion private, disclosed abortions, sexual orientation issues, and drug abuse, all of which were tape-recorded by the Progressive gumshoes. After an emergency convening, and learning their trust and privacy was breached and violated, the group broke down and cried and several members left.

There’s no mention of how the private investigators’ identity was discovered. Maybe the group got suspicious after the couple would say, “pass” whenever it came their time to confess. Also gotta wonder how “isolated” this incident was. Maybe Progressive was just unlucky enough to get caught in something that goes on all the time. Guess if you’re involved in a lawsuit with a company you need to watch out for any “new friends” you suddenly find yourself having.

Private eyes sneak into church group [Atlanta Journal-Constitution]
Company says it’s sorry for spying [Atlanta Journal-Constitution] (Thanks to ptkdude!)
(Photo: The Master Shake Signal)

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  1. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    Stuff like this makes me think that sometimes vigilante justice could have constructive uses.

  2. I hope they lose all of their business in Atlanta. (Ideally, they’d lose all of their business period.)

    Do companies like this have a limit? What is wrong with them?

  3. DjDynasty says:

    Stuff like this makes me understand why people dispise having to carry insurance in general.

  4. Cowboys_fan says:

    Churches are equally evil, I have no sympathy. I can understand if there are suspicious injuries. This is not an invasion of privacy. The last I heard, churches were open to everyone. Its like an AA meeting, sure its meant to be confidential, but is certainly not.

  5. jaredgood1 says:

    How very forward thinking of them. Truly, an appropriately named company.

  6. Buran says:

    Those people need to be sued into oblivion. You just don’t do that to that kind of group. It’s wrong regardless — isn’t that what discovery is for? — but a support group for that kind of thing!?!?

  7. warf0x0r says:

    Wow, If I hadn’t switched auto insurers a month ago I would now.

  8. @Cowboys_fan: So it’s ok to record a support group meeting after agreeing that everything will be kept confidential because churches are evil. Riiiiight.

  9. Chairman-Meow says:

    Oh to be sitting in on the meeting where this this little adventure was greenlighted.

  10. cindel says:

    Who knew you had to go to Church to get dirt…

  11. asherchang says:

    @Cowboys_fan: “churches are evil”.

    wow, ok. whatever you want to think, But to lie and go to a meeting
    where you promise confidentiality when you plan on reporting any dirt
    on people that trust you can never be justified in any way whatsoever.

    People who are ympathisers to sleazy corporations just because they hurt members of a so-called evil church are evil.

  12. nctrnlboy says:

    is anyone surprised? C’mon! These guys (PIs) are routinely known for spying thru peoples’ windows with a big camera lens. And insurance companies can be pure evil when money is concerned! ANYTHING is acceptable if it keeps them (insurance companies) from having to pay out.

  13. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @asherchang: While I think Progressive was wrong…well churches are full of evil people. How many of these support group members have thier issues spread through out the church the minute they leave the meeting? Come on thats half the fun of church…spreading lies and gossip about everyone else…ooh almost forgot making fun of the people who don’t dress nicely enought for church is a biggie too. Aaaannndd lets not forget about talking down on anyone who isn’t your religion or doesen’t attend church regularly…you know the damned.

  14. Yourhero88 says:

    @Cowboys_fan: hey, your ignorance is showing.

    Don’t think for a second that because you have a bias towards organized religion, that people’s personal problems are suddenly null and void. This was not Sunday mass that was intruded upon. It was a private group that was hosted by the church for people to discuss their serious issues.

    Churches do things like this as a social outreach because the inherent purpose of most spiritual beliefs is to obey the laws of karmic justice (do unto others as you would have them do unto you.)

    That being said, once again, this has nothing to do with the mission of the church, as this was a group meant to help those hurting physically, and emotionally. Would you be as unforgiving if this group was held in a social annex, or community center, and was not church affiliated?

    And in reply to your AA meeting comment, of course they are not secure, air-tight meetings, but neither are they tape-fodder for corporate agendas.

  15. @Cowboys_fan: Have you been to many AA meetings? As a member, I can tell you don’t tolerate the idea of people recording what happens in our meetings either. No cell phones, no cameras, notta. It’s as confidential as the people sitting in the rooms.
    Saying “churches are evil, so this is justified” is ridiculous.
    It’s one thing to attend a meeting and gather information, it’s another thing to record, onto media, what people are saying. Low low low low low.

  16. Yourhero88 says:

    @Nemesis_Enforcer: In response to your comment, and to append to my previous rant, you skew the church for being full of “evil people” when this article talks about a public service that the church is providing; but you go and make an unfounded assumption.

    Think of it this way; What if the RIAA had agents crouched in the salvation army donation bins to make sure that people weren’t giving away free music? It’s a rediculous analogy, but it’s in the same vein. A corporation is monitoring the charity metered out by an organization to ensure that their policies are being enforced. It’s sickening any way you slice it.

  17. ChrisC1234 says:

    Not only should the couple being investigated by Progressive sue them for deception and breach of privacy, I think ALL of the members of that small group should sue Progressive, along with the church itself. Insurance companies are among the sleaziest corporations there are, and while wrong on so many levels, this event doesn’t surprise me. And it also begs the question, so if they got caught this time, how many OTHER times have they pulled stunts like this and gotten away with it.

  18. Canadian Impostor says:

    I’m glad I’m not a Progressive customer.

  19. ceejeemcbeegee is not here says:

    Last I checked, there were evil people everywhere, not just churches. Would it have been less acceptable if it happened at a corporate office?

  20. Nemesis_Enforcer says:

    @Yourhero88: I agree that Progressive was wrong and should be punished.

    I was stating that to belive that these meetings are confidential and no one but the attendees will know what happens is well..naive. I was forced to attend churc for many ways at differnt churches and they were all the same.

  21. Bay State Darren says:

    If there’s any justice in the world, every church in America will come down on Opressive Insurance Co. like a ton of bricks. I’m an atheist who left Christianity (although I don’t think “churches are evil” or anything close to that) and this pisses me off. I am willing to say insurance companies are evil, though.

  22. hoot550 says:

    There should be fast and appropriate consequences for any business that does this type of thing. If individuals were to infiltrate Progressive and record “trade secrets” you can bet they’d be facing multimillion dollar lawsuits and/or jail time.

    When business do this, some PR person comes out, says it was an isolated incident and most of the time nothing else comes of it. The amount of inappropriate behavior we tolerate from corporations is depressing.

    I would hope to see some action by regulatory agencies, but I’ll be surprised if anything happens. I guess we should just live our life by the assumption that no matter what we do, some company or its agent out there may be recording it for later use. It’s sad, but becoming more real every day.

  23. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    The question is, WERE these the PI’s marks scamming in the lawsuit? It’s funny to claim that they were improper and unethical but, you know, fraudulent suits are pretty unethical, too.

    What about “thou shalt not bear false witness”?

    Were these Progressive’s PIs or independent contractors? Even if they did have a morals clause in the contract, if there anything like the PI I had trailing me for a while looking for dirt they’d probably wipe their asses with them.

  24. Buran says:

    @Applekid: Two wrongs don’t make a right. Whether or not they think were justified, they crossed a line.

  25. Little Miss Moneybags says:

    Unbelievable. And regardless of whether a verbal confidentiality agreement among the group members should or shouldn’t have been violated, I’m pretty sure that Georgia’s state law prohibits recording people when they’re not aware of it–especially when you’re blatantly assuring them that you’re not!

    I agree with the poster who said the couple, the group, and the church should sue both the individual Progressive rep and the entire company under any civil and criminal statutes that apply. And they should get a new insurance company pronto.

  26. Ausoleil says:

    @Applekid: Where exactly is the fraudulent lawsuit? The original accident? The couple germane to the issue had already collected from Allstate and then turned to their own company because of an underinsured/noninsured policy they carried. IOW, they weren’t pursuing a fraudulent lawsuit there, after all, Progressive did eventually settle with them.

    Or do you mean the lawsuit against the PIs, who lied their way into a private meeting and recorded that meeting while posing to be members of the group? That’s pretty shady and if anyone is fraudulent it’s the Private Dicks using nefarious techniques.

  27. Cowboys_fan says:

    @Rectilinear Propagation: @asherchang: @Yourhero88: @GothamCityProject:
    I was not intending anti-religious slurs but on some levels(usually money), they are evil. Just as I would not sympathize with wal-mart on any level. I don’t believe this to be unethical b/c if a suspected crime has been committed, then confidentiality means nothing. Seeing how the PI found no incriminating evidence, the information was not shared.
    For those who asked, I have been to church many times, my mother hosted a church group when I was growing up, and I have attended several AA meetings for friends. Sure this type of thing is frowned upon, but it is not taping from inside a confessional. As soon as a third party is present, all bets are off. Also karma is a buddhist thing, not a catholic/christian thing.

  28. Asvetic says:

    Those who fraud the insurance companies will get no sympathy from me. I applaud Progressives attempts to catch them, but the process in which they did it wasn’t exactly appropriate.

  29. Trai_Dep says:

    Wait. I thought Southerners never have abortions and don’t indulge in the homosexual “lifestyle”. Oh, that’s other people that aren’t allowed… Got it.

  30. lestat730 says:

    I can’t even find words strong enough to describe exactly how messed up this is. These people confided in each other and shared things that they wouldn’t have told anyone else. Then this company goes in there and shatters the trust so badly that some members chose to leave something that was probably very healthy and good for them. This is 100% immoral and cruel. It sickens me that a company would stoop this low just to save a few dollars. An apology from them couldn’t even begin to resolve what these greedy bastards have done. If I had Progressive insurance I would switch to something else based on this alone. It’s scary to think about how often things like this happen….

  31. Beerad says:

    @Cowboys_fan: “if a suspected crime has been committed, then confidentiality means nothing.”

    Wow! Do you really believe that? Like, you lose all of your expected privacy once somebody (not even the police, mind you, but some corporation) thinks you’ve done something wrong?

    If you’re sued (say someone accuses you of committing fraud in signing a contract) should the other side be allowed to search your house? I mean, where’s your privacy there? Someone else claims you committed a crime!

    Scary.

  32. Techguy1138 says:

    @Cowboys_fan:

    “if a suspected crime has been committed, then confidentiality means nothing.”

    Hey CowboyFan, you seem to be spreading hate speech on the internet. Since that is a crime you would have no problem if I hired a PI to get your IP from gawker media, then your name and address from your ISP.

  33. ptkdude says:

    @Scarfish: In Georgia, only one person on the recording has to know about it. Since, presumably, the private dick would have said something at the meeting, even “hello”, the recording would be perfectly legal here.

  34. Asvetic says:

    This is a church group, people don’t sign confidentiality agreements when they join a church group, it’s just expected that what you say will remain confidential among these support groups.

    Legally, there isn’t much recourse. It would have been more troubling if the Progressive PI’s approached a doctor, lawyer or shrink and extracted the information from those sources.

  35. clodia says:

    @trai_dep:

    Yeah, because all Southerners are intolerant assholes. Thanks.

  36. calvinneal says:

    Cowboys_fan, shouldn’t you be back in Junior High this week? I am so sick of the hate speech and serial abuse on this forum. This site has a good intent, however the serial abusers like Cowboy ruin it. Evil” must be the most overused word on this site.

  37. Tonguetied says:

    Of course churches are full of evil people. That’s one of the key tenets of Christianity; “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glories of God.” If you didn’t believe that you wouldn’t bother going to church…

    But talk about your non sequiturs, what does that have to do with the unethical behavior of the private investigators. It’s ok to lie and cheat “Them” (insert name of disliked group here, Indians, Blacks, Muslims, Christians, etc.) because “They” all lie and cheat.

    That’s bigotry, pure and simple.

  38. Trai_Dep says:

    @clodia: Well, just those Southerners. I realize the Hell it must be to live there and not be of that ilk, so sorry about not carving out that exclusion that I had in my head when I wrote. Carry on the good fight! :)

  39. Techguy1138 says:

    @Tonguetied:
    “Of course churches are full of evil people. That’s one of the key tenets of Christianity; “For all have sinned and fallen short of the glories of God.” If you didn’t believe that you wouldn’t bother going to church…”


    Of course in Christianity one can argue that Jesus died for all of those sins so we can be devoted to glorifying God as opposed to be devoted to our personal failings.

    That a pretty central reason to go to church.

  40. clodia says:

    @trai_dep:

    Actually, I love living in the South. Yeah, with some people I have to watch my words because they don’t agree with me, but I know a good number of people who do, and even the people with whom I don’t agree are generally good people who just have a different opinion. There are the occasional asshats, but you’ll get those anywhere.

  41. Consumer-X says:

    It’s sad when one discovers that the name “Progressive” was chosen by that insurance company not because they were forward thinking or revolutionary in their business practices but simply for some lame marketing purpose.

  42. spinachdip says:

    @Asvetic: IANAL, but a confession to a clergyman gets the same legal protection as those to therapists and lawyers do.

    Now, I realize a minister and a support group that happens to be hosted at a church are materially different, but I bring up the example to point out that you don’t need an explicit contract for confidentiality. A reasonable person would assume that what is said in a support group stays in a support group, and should be enough for legal protection (again, IANAL).

    You’re right, you can’t stop PI’s from joining a support group. But I imagine that any information the PI gained under false pretenses from a support group where participants had a reasonable expectation of privacy would not be admissible in court.

    I mean, otherwise, what’s stopping cops from sitting in NA meetings fishing for confessions of drug use?

  43. Cowboys_fan says:

    @Beerad: @calvinneal:
    Exactly how is that hate speech? Its okay for people to say wal-mart is evil but nothing else? Whats good for the goose…This is what PI’s do. If they can’t go into a church group for evidence, then they also couldn’t videotape a mafia meeting trying to find a kidnap victim perhaps, b/c they say “Nothing leaves this room”. If you don’t like PI’s altogether, then thats a different arguement. This is by no means meant to be hateful.

  44. bohemian says:

    This does not surprise me one bit.

    The debate about churches aside, they snuck into what was supposed to be a private support group. Insurance companies will go to great lengths not only to try to “catch” someone but will pursue people they don’t have a reason to suspect fraud.
    Then there is just gaslighting people to try to intimidate them into dropping suit or hope that they kill themselves.

  45. BrockBrockman says:

    I hope Progressive gets walloped in the pocketbook for this one. In California, this would be a big-time violation of the right to privacy.

    As for some of the other comments in this thread, tsk tsk.

  46. spinachdip says:

    @Cowboys_fan: Stupid apples, silly oranges.

    No crime is committed at a support group where crime may be discussed, but a crime is committed at a mob meeting (i.e. criminal conspiracy) or a room where a kidnap victim is held (i.e. false imprisonment).

  47. joeblevins says:

    So these dirtbags get drunk/doped up. Cause bodily and physical damage. Insurance company wants the real story. They show up to a rehab meeting and record them admitting to it.

    No problem from me. These ‘victims’ are dirtbags.

  48. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @trai_dep:

    Yay stereotypes!

  49. Wormfather says:

    When I was 19 I recieved one of the most valuble pieces of information I have today.

    In America there are four industries you never trust; insurance, tele-communications, banking and automotive. They will screw you over at every pass.

    8 years later, it rings truer everyday.

    …now if they’d only taught me how to spell.

  50. Jaysyn was banned for: http://consumerist.com/5032912/the-subprime-meltdown-will-be-nothing-compared-to-the-prime-meltdown#c7042646 says:

    @joeblevins:

    I guess the ends justify the means with you?

  51. drjayphd says:

    @joeblevins: Uh… huh. Because someone mentioned drug issues, it’s OBVIOUSLY the couple in question. Gotcha. How much does Progressive pay you again?

  52. nardo218 says:

    A support group held in a church? Or a support group for people who go to church?

  53. CaptainConsumer says:

    Is there not SOME kind of reverend/pastor/priest privelege? It’s always been my understanding something such as a Catholic confession cannot be used in court. If these parishoners were indeed speaking to or with the pastor in the room would that not make the recordings null and void anyway?

  54. spinachdip says:

    @joeblevins: Who said anything about rehab?

  55. Jiminy Christmas says:

    @Cowboys_fan:

    I don’t believe this to be unethical b/c if a suspected crime has been committed, then confidentiality means nothing.

    Tell me if you have ever heard of this survey: People are asked about four ‘hypothetical’ laws and whether or not they would vote for them if they were on a ballot. Of the laws in question, only about 30% of the people think they are worthy ideas.

    Here’s the catch: the ‘hypothetical’ laws in the survey are just rephrasings of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, & Eighth Amendments of the Bill of Rights: the laws that basically define what Americans understand as “freedom.”

    I suspect you would have been in that 30%.

  56. andrewsmash says:

    I bet this has more to do with Progressive being able to tell their shareholders that they have “done everything possible to root out fraud” than it does anything else. For-profit corporations who are involved in the world of insurance will do anything to get out of paying a settlement. I’ll bet every other company has done something similar, but they spent enough to find a PI who wasn’t caught.

  57. RC58 says:

    IANAL, but clergy-penitent confidentiality probably doesn’t help protect participants in a group where non-clergy are part of the conversation. The same goes for therapy groups: participants have to rely on the non-professional members to act ethically and respect each other’s confidences.

    Still, it would be good if there’s some recourse against the people who made the recording.

  58. weez says:

    good i hope they keep doing stuff like this to keep my auto insurance rates low. there are too many scammer. I have progressive for years and they are an excellent bunch. i total my car the rep was there within 2 hours to assess my cars and i got my check 2 days later. PROGRESSIVE FOR LIFE

  59. spinachdip says:

    @weez: A few questions:
    1. You say there are too many scammers. How many scammers are there, and can you kindly cite the source for that figure?
    2. What is an acceptable number of scammers for you, where such zealous and unethical tactics would not be necessary?
    3. Are you not bothered by the chilling effect entering a “safe” group under false pretenses have on support groups?

  60. Hexum2600 says:

    @spinachdip:

    1. I believe that this does not need to be referenced, as we can all agree that there is at least 1 scammer out there. I believe this to be common knowledge, just like no one would cite where they heard the sky is blue.

    2. 0

    3. No. The people who think there is such a thing as a “safe” group deserve whatever happens due to their stupidity. Family is as close as it gets, and when someone in your family betrays that confidentiality, you erase them from your family. Or life in general.

  61. dextrone says:

    This is sad what the USA has come down to.

    The only reason that Progressive said sorry is to cover up their PR.

  62. Keter says:

    Time Warner did this — and worse — to a friend of mine when my friend’s child was struck and killed by one of their service trucks. Hell has undertaken excavation of a new level for corporate scum like this.

  63. speedwell (propagandist and secular snarkist) says:

    OK, even if you think this was even marginally acceptable because the couple might have been guilty, what about the privacy rights of all the innocent people in the group?

    If this had happened in a group that I was part of, and I was NOT the person involved in the accident, I’d sue Progressive on my own behalf, and I think these people should.

  64. spinachdip says:

    @Hexum2600: This is a scary response on so many levels. The absence of logic is staggering.

  65. Keebler says:

    The actions of the insurance company’s PIs in this case were unconscionable. I’m not bothered that they suspected and investigated a policy holder for fraud: Fraud is rampant and costs insurance companies billions a year and they have every right and obligation to exercise due diligence when there’s a suspicious claim.

    But by infiltrating a support group there were, in effect, spying on everybody there, recording the confessions of people where were no part to the alleged fraud but simply trying to come to terms with their painful past. So when those people discovered that an insurance company had agents in the room, spying on them, where previously there had been safety, hope, and trust, well, they’ve been violated in a way that goes beyond mere privacy. It’s just one more nail in the alienation coffin, where we have to bury our humanity for fear of retribution, where there’s no redemption and no healing and every punishment is forever.

  66. MyCokesBiggerThanYours says:

    Would we be complaining if private detectives did this to find dirt on insurance execs?

    All insurance is a scam as it its.

  67. Scorpy2643 says:

    A whole lot of reaction here, very little facts. Progessive hired lawyers, the lawyers hired the pi’s, the pi’s acted on thier own. At least lay blame where it is due. These are the results of scummy pi’s. But hey, why let little things like facts get in the way of hating corporate America…

  68. YesThatsTrue says:

    Progressive Insurance is a company based in Ohio. The AJ article is about a Wisconson-based company called Progressive Northern Insurance Co.

    Not the same company.