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Disaster Strikes, Then Insurance Money Is 'Hijacked'

ROUND LAKE BEACH (CBS) -- When disaster strikes and destroys your home, you could easily become the target of unscrupulous insurance adjusters. Public adjusters, which operate as independent businesses and not part of insurance companies, listen to emergency scanners waiting for fires, floods and hail damage. 

2 Investigator Dave Savini found some of them race to the scene, get you to sign a contract, and hijack your insurance money.

The Neel family of Round Lake Beach says it happened to them. 

"I think it's really sad because we may not have a home," said 12-year-old Kim Neel. 

Her family's home was destroyed in a fire that nearly killed her aunt earlier this year. Then the insurance money to rebuild the house got hijacked.

Emily Neel, Kim's mother, says the family never called a public adjuster, but one arrived on the scene before the fire was extinguished. The adjuster even had a contract ready to be signed. The Neels say they had no idea they were about to be victimized.

"When they come, (victims) think 'Oh, this is my guardian angel sent to save me' -- and they're not," Emily Neel said.

After storms or fires, pubic adjusters often promise to get you more money from your home owner's insurance policy, and they promise to take charge of the repairs and reconstruction.  They get you to sign a contract that basically gives them power of attorney over your insurance claim. 

This industry runs rampant with fraud, according to regulators.

The public adjuster in the Neel's case came from CIS Inc. of Palos Hills.  It's run by Warren Pointer, who has a criminal arrest record that includes aggravated battery, weapons charges and deceptive practices. 

The Neels say CIS took $53,000 of their insurance money and left their home in shambles. CIS's number is disconnected and the office is empty, and attempts to reach Pointer were unsuccessful.

Another alleged victim of CIS is 81-year-old Dorothy Campbell, who says she  lost more than $100,000 in insurance money to CIS. 

Campbell says she could have used that money to repair her home, which was severely damaged by a fire. She fired CIS and used her savings to make the best repairs she could afford, Campbell said. Later, CIS officials put a lien on her home, she said.

"That's rough to stop and think about because I trusted this guy," Campbell said.

Michael McRaith, director of the Illinois Department of Insurance, says home owners should be wary.

"Take some time, talk with a lawyer perhaps, talk with the Department of Insurance," he said.

Join Dave Savini's Fan Page on Facebook.

Pointer was in violation of state law because he owned a public adjuster company despite not having the proper license. The state Insurance Department keeps track of hundreds of licensed adjusters out there.

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