Okay, now that the political

by francine Hardaway on November 9, 2004

Okay, now that the political scene has died down I can go back to my first love, which is beta testing new software. (I do hardware as well; stay tuned for the results of my wrestling match with the Vonage modem, which arrived in the mail yesterday). My latest acquisition is Google desktop search, which has already been reviewed by lots of techies who love it.

But I’m just an ordinary girl, and after using it twice, I love it too. While the first time was just to re-discover some old emails from a friend who recently passed on, the second use is going to rock the business world more than Sarbanes-Oxley.

This time, I used desktop search to prove that I am still owed about $2400 by an insurance agency representing a property and casualty company. Between Google and Wells Fargo online, I can prove that I sent money for insurance I never got and didn’t need anyway, and that the excess money was never refunded when the transaction finally closed. This would NEVER have been possible “back in the day,” because big picture thinkers (aka people with attention deficit disorder) like me tend not to keep adequate records.

How did I get in this situation? Well, part of my big picture thought process was to extend the benefits of our entrepreneurial training program to people who couldn’t afford the $750 fee. So last year, Stealthmode Partners applied for and received a Community Development Block Grant award for our Fasttrac Program. Part of the application included having $2 million in liability insurance and naming the City of Phoenix as additional insured.

Well, I assumed this situation was pretty common, especially in the case of federal grantees, so I decided to look for insurance over the Internet. My query to one of the insurance websites (Quotesmith, or Insurance.com, I can’t recall which) was answered by an agency in Scottsdale called Pacific Reserve Insurance. Its representative, Ron Osowski, began shopping my request around, and asking me questions about my business.

The underwriters must have completely misunderstood what we did. It didn’t matter to them that the program was held at a law office, and that the law office and the building probably BOTH had insurance that would cover a participant tripping and falling in the lobby, etc. After I answered all the questions, it appeared that the insurance would cost $3600. Three times I sent a binder to the Pacific Reserve bank account (SBIR Trust), and three times I had to increase it. In the mean time, SBIR Trust cashed all the checks.

I went back to the City and told them it was going to cost more than 10% of the amount of the grant to get the insurance, and to their credit they went immediately to their lawyers to get the amount of insurance reduced to $500,000. Bur rather than recycle the old binder money, at this point, Pacific Reserve made me give a new binder, another $1100, for the new amount. They cashed all my checks immediately, even the ones that were faxed copies. Both my banker and I found out that it’s legal to do that when one of the checks exceeded my overdraft protection (I never expected them to cash a copy of a check).

I was promised by Ron Osowski that the insurance company would return the surplus cash. That was in July. No check has ever arrived. No one at Pacific Reserve answers their phones directly; it’s all voicemail.

Are you still following? It’s complex. But thanks to Google desktop search, I actually recovered, in a matter of seconds, every last email, every document, every fax associated with the transaction. Every email is organized by thread. No longer is it a “he said, she said” situation.

No longer will it take an army of lawyers to fight Microsoft, or a bevy of data recovery analysts to take part in a lawsuit. As in every other sector, technology can put the user directly in touch with the information, eliminating the middle person.

And I was so happy to find out how well the search worked and how easily it was to recover the email evidence that I momentarily forgot my anger at being cheated. But today I call the Department of Insurance. Ron, if you’re out there: be a good agent and help me out.

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