Your Adventure Shots on Instagram Could Raise Your Insurance

Shannah Compton Game | Outside Online

But the flip side is that your healthy fitness habits—so deemed by lurking insurance companies—could lower premiums

Many of us use our social media accounts to showcase our lives—or at least some glorified, filtered version of them, where we’re always on top of a mountain or looking strong and confident at the gym.

We know the posts are public; that is, after all, the whole point. But what you might not have known is that we should now count insurance companies as potential secret followers lurking among our audiences. That’s right—just as hiring managers use LinkedIn to confirm resumes, some insurance carriers are turning to social media to find new ways to justify premiums and substantiate claims.

Here’s what you need to know about this creepy new frontier in the health and fitness space.      

First, Some History (Thanks A Lot, New York)

In January 2019, the New York Department of Financial Services became the first regulator to allow insurance carriers to use social-media data to help set insurance premiums and verify claims. The official statement read, in part:

“The Department fully supports innovation and the use of technology to improve access to financial services. Indeed, insurers’ use of external data sources has the potential to benefit insurers and consumers alike by simplifying and expediting life insurance sales and underwriting processes. External data sources also have the potential to result in more accurate underwriting and pricing of life insurance.”

Insurance carriers are always on the lookout for ways to improve their underwriting process and confirm that insurance claims are legit. Typically, they ask a series of questions on an application to dial in your risk classification. Here are some standard ones that I’ve seen repeatedly on life- and disability-insurance applications:

  • Do you hang glide?
  • Are you a pilot of a plane?
  • What countries are you traveling to?
  • Do you participate in any adventure sports?
  • Do you scuba dive?
  • Do you participate in hazardous sports?

Disability- and life-insurance carriers will offer you insurance based on a rating classification. The standard top rating is usually referred to as Super Preferred Non-Tobacco, which only a small fraction of the population qualifies for. As you might have guessed, those lucky few then tend to get lower-cost premiums.   

Health and travel insurance don’t use the same rating classification, so your social media presence isn’t as important in those areas—at least not yet. Health-insurance rates vary based on where you live, what type of deductible you have, and whether or not your company underwrites a portion of your premiums. Travel insurance is based on the amount you wish to insure your trip for, in the case of an unexpected cancellation.

Why Your Posts Matter

Each insurance carrier will have its own set of lifestyle-based questions. The risk of lying about your activities could come back to bite you in more ways than one.

For example, let’s say you file a disability insurance claim. If insurance carriers have access to your social media feed and see a photo of you skiing down a mountain or zip lining through the jungle in Costa Rica, well, that’s going to raise some red flags and could trigger an immediate denial of your claim. Conversely, if you stated on your application that you don’t participate in hazardous sports, and then the insurer sees a photo of you BASE jumping on Insta, that can be grounds to offer you a higher rating class, which means you’ll end up paying more money for your insurance.

It’s Not All Totally Unfair

There’s a flip side to all this, too: insurance companies might also reward you for a healthy, active lifestyle. The car-insurance industry, for example, has been using lifestyle data and mobile apps to help reduce its premiums for so-deemed “good” drivers for years. Many health-insurance companies are offering gift cards and incentives to stay healthy and check in each time you go to the gym and work out. These credits and incentives can help reduce your health-insurance deductible, putting more money back in your pocket.

A recent Wall Street Journal article pointed to the fact that living a healthy lifestyle could be a great incentive for reducing insurance costs, so there’s that argument for publicly sharing that data.  

How to Protect Yourself

For starters, turn on your privacy settings in your social media feeds, especially Facebook and Instagram. This will limit your posts and feed to only your friends—not insurance carriers. If you want to be supercautious, you can also untag yourself from friends’ photos of yourself in an adventurous setting, which the suits in New York could deem risky. 

Social media will, of course, only tell a fraction of your story. Insurance carriers still rely on good old blood and urine samples to figure out your risk classification. There’s also a lot of health and lifestyle information that can be uncovered from your doctors’ records when you apply for disability or life insurance. But it’s worth taking a minute and ensuring that your feeds align with your insurance applications and claims. It’s just a little bit more filtering and polishing of our digital lives, after all.

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Social Media Is Making the Outdoors More Dangerous

Statistics from Los Angeles County demonstrate just how deadly doing it for the ‘Gram can be.

We all know that one-upmanship on social media is stupid and dangerous. But now we may have stats to prove it. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department Search and Rescue team reports that its missions have increased by 38 percent over the last five years—something they attribute to people sharing photos and videos of their dangerous activities online. 

That department ran 681 SAR missions in 2017, its highest number ever, up from 491 in 2013. L.A. County is home to numerous outdoor hotspots, from beaches to 50-foot waterfalls to slot canyons to 10,000-foot mountains. The cops attribute some of the increase in SAR work to social media and other online tools that reveal previously little-known spots to the masses. They also blame people who try to mimic dangerous stunts they see online or to impress their followers with new ones. 

“People will post videos of themselves jumping off of Hermit Falls or the Malibu rock pool, and they post it in the springtime when there’s a decent amount of water. But now, the water is a lot less, so what used to be a 10-foot pool is now a 5-foot pool,” Michael Leum, of the Sheriff’s Office, told the Los Angeles Times. “You won’t want to be a lawn dart going into that shallow pool.”

The county has closed many dangerous locations in recent years, but signs often aren’t enough to discourage people determined to find an epic spot they’ve found online. I used to be one of those people. A few years ago, friends and I watched a video of people cliff jumping in Eaton Canyon, in the San Gabriel Mountains, then set out to re-create what we’d watched. Going off-trail to make our way into the waterfalls, we scaled a dangerous cliff with the aid of tree roots and a sketchy rope put up by strangers before reaching the base of the upper falls. The water was low and the climb up the falls was too difficult since we’d failed to bring ropes, so we decided to call it quits. But we still risked our lives just to make our social media presence look a little more exciting. I’m glad I know better now. 

By venturing off-trail in a high-use area, we also contributed to soil erosion. Robert Garcia, the fire chief for Angeles National Forest explains: “Trails are designed with mitigation and resource protection in mind, so user-created trails don’t have that level of planning.” 

He also suggests that social media is drawing unprepared people to outdoor locations that require experience, planning, and proper equipment to navigate safely. People are venturing into what’s actually a pretty challenging environment without tools, adequate footwear, proper clothing, flashlights, or even drinking water. The Times relates the story of a 19-year-old who got lost, found himself on top of a waterfall by accident, while wearing tennis shoes, then slipped and fell 50 feet. He broke his tailbone and pelvis. 

That kid was lucky. Just two months ago, I wrote a story about three members of Canadian social media collective High on Life, who died when they were swept over a waterfall while trying to create content for their popular Instagram account and YouTube channel. 

Writing this, I kind of feel like a dad asking his child if they’d jump off a cliff just because their friends did. But that is literally the advice I’m trying to impart. Likes on social media are never worth your life.