How auto insurers raise prices

DALLAS – You expect your car insurance rates to increase after you buy a new vehicle, cause a crash or add a young driver to your policy. But some insurers jack up prices based on seemingly unrelated data—like your magazine subscriptions or what groceries you buy.

Even if you have a clean driving record and have stayed loyal to your insurance company for the past 10 years, you could be paying higher premiums than someone with the same driving history, car and background. Why? Price optimization.

Price optimization is the practice of charging higher rates based on the likelihood that a person will not shop around for a lower price. Insurers create algorithms based on all kinds of personal data, including loyalty to other service providers and shopping behavior, but not your driving habits. This is a separate formula from other common auto insurance rate factors like age, neighborhood, gender and the type of car you drive.

Factors can run the gamut from your magazine subscriptions, the number of phones you buy and your web browsing history. This means a company’s most loyal customers may be most affected by this practice.

And while it’s true insurers often have a loyalty discount, if you’re overcharged by 30%, a 5% or 10% loyalty discount isn’t worth it, explains Robert Hunter, director of insurance at the Consumer Federation of America, a nonprofit group based in the District of Columbia.

With the average cost of car insurance at $1,621 per year in 2019, according to a NerdWallet rate analysis, price optimization could cost you more than you think.

For example, Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit based in Los Angeles, detailed a recent case in which Farmers Insurance overcharged its longtime California customers 4%-13% more in premiums each year than it should have — $26 million to $29 million a year in total.

Price optimization is illegal in 20 states, but the CFA asserts all states should outlaw the tactic. “Some companies are still using it, some have dropped it completely—we don’t know which are which,” Hunter says. And while every state requires rates not be excessive or unfairly discriminatory, he says some state insurance commissioners just aren’t paying attention to price optimization. “It’s hidden in rates and hard to find.”

Because companies use different algorithms to determine rates, price optimization can affect anyone who doesn’t compare insurance rates often. Even those not affected by price optimization can save hundreds of dollars a year by comparing rates.

“The reason they can charge you $1,000 and another person $2,000 is because the person paying $2,000 doesn’t know about the $1,000 company out there,” Hunter says.

Auto insurance shopping isn’t glamorous, but just an hour of your time comparing rates might pay for your next vacation. Whether you shop online, through an agent or a combination, here are some quick guidelines on how to compare car insurance quotes.

Auto insurance premiums change as often as every six months, so you might benefit from doing a search each time your policy is up for renewal, but if that seems like a hassle, aim for once per year.

Sarah Brown, president and CEO of Keller-Brown Insurance Services of Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, notes it’s not necessarily a matter of time but life events that can cause rate changes. She sees the biggest rate inflation when customers add a young driver to their policies or buy a new vehicle. She says it’s best to shop around before you’re hit with higher rates.

“You may qualify for a preferred pricing tier before the young driver is added,” for example, but you may not qualify after, Brown says.

Customers considered “preferred” by insurers tend to have clean driving records and credit histories, and receive the best rates.

Drivers should consider more than cost when choosing an insurer, including things like the company’s reputation and customer satisfaction scores.

“It’s very easy to be seduced into focusing on the price. But you’re buying this insurance to protect yourself against that fateful day when something happens,” says Harvey Rosenfield, founder of Consumer Watchdog.

To learn more about a company, you can look up complaints to insurance commissioners or find auto insurance reviews online.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

House makes lynching a federal crime, 65 years after Emmett Till

WASHINGTON – Sixty-five years after 14-year-old Emmett Till was lynched in the U.S. state of Mississippi, the House has approved legislation designating lynching as a hate crime under federal law.

The bill, introduced by Illinois Rep. Bobby Rush and named after Till, comes 120 years after Congress first considered anti-lynching legislation and after dozens of similar efforts were defeated.

The measure was approved 410 to 4 on Wednesday. The Senate unanimously passed virtually identical legislation last year, although that bill wasn’t named for Till. President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill, which designates lynching as a federal hate crime punishable by up to life in prison, a fine, or both.

Opposers to the bill included 3 Republicans and 1 Independent politician. Sixteen political leaders abstained from the vote. Results of the vote, and all others, are made viewable at the official website for the House. The results of this vote can be viewed here: Final House Votes for Roll Call 71.

Rush, a Democrat whose Chicago district includes Till’s former home, said the bill will achieve justice for Till and more than 4,000 other lynching victims, most of them Blacks or African Americans.

Till, who was black, was brutally tortured and killed in 1955 after a white woman accused him of grabbing her and whistling at her in a Mississippi grocery store. The killing shocked the country and stoked the Civil Rights Movement.

“The importance of this bill cannot be overstated,” said Rush, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus. “From Charlottesville to El Paso, we are still being confronted with the same violent racism and hatred that took the life of Emmett and so many others. The passage of this bill will send a strong and clear message to the nation that we will not tolerate this bigotry. ”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., who represents the area where Till was abducted and murdered, called the anti-lynching bill long overdue, but said: “No matter the length of time, it is never too late to ensure justice is served.”

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., used similar language to urge the bill’s passage. “It is never too late to do the right thing and address these gruesome, racially motivated acts of terror that have plagued our nation’s history,” he said, urging lawmakers to “renew our commitment to confronting racism and hate.”

Two of the four representatives who opposed the bill—Louie Gohmert, R-Tx., and Thomas Massie, R-Ky.—explained their reasoning for doing so.

Gohmert said he supported the bill’s concept, but preferred that those accused of lynching in Texas be tried in state court, where they could face the death penalty.

Massie said he opposed the expansion of federal hate-crime laws. “A crime is a crime, and all victims deserve equal justice,” he said in a statement. “Adding enhanced penalties for ‘hate’ tends to endanger other liberties such as freedom of speech.”

Democratic Rep. Karen Bass of California, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, called lynching a lasting legacy of slavery.

“Make no mistake, lynching is terrorism,” she said. “While this reign of terror has faded, the most recent lynching (in the United States) happened less than 25 years ago.”

Although Congress cannot truly rectify the terror and horror of these acts, Bass said, a legislative body that once included slave owners and Ku Klux Klan members will belatedly “stand up and do our part so that justice is delivered in the future.”

Gunman opens fire in Milwaukee before suicide

MILWAUKEE – An employee opened fire Wednesday at one of the nation’s largest breweries in Milwaukee, killing five co-workers before committing suicide, police said.

The assailant who attacked the Molson Coors complex was identified as a 51-year-old Milwaukee man who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, police said.

“There were five individuals who went to work today, just like everybody goes to work, and they thought they were going to go to work, finish their day and return to their families. They didn’t—and tragically they never will,” Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said.

Authorities offered no immediate motive for the attack and did not release details about the shooter or how the shooting unfolded.

In addition, none of the victims were identified. Police, who were still contacting relatives, said identities would not be released for at least 24 hours. No one was wounded beyond those who were killed, authorities said.

Police officers worked for hours to clear the more than 20 buildings in the complex where more than 1,000 people work. They announced at a late evening news conference that their work was done and all employees had been allowed to go home. Police Chief Alfonso Morales said authorities believe the shooter acted alone.

President Donald Trump addressed the shooting before speaking at the White House about his administration’s efforts to combat the coronavirus.

“Our hearts break for them and their loved ones,” President Trump said. “We send our condolences. We’ll be with them, and it’s a terrible thing, a terrible thing.”

The attack occurred at a sprawling complex that includes a mix of corporate offices and brewing facilities. The complex is widely known in the Milwaukee metropolitan area as “Miller Valley,” a reference to the Miller Brewing Co. that is now part of Molson Coors.

Gavin Hattersley, CEO of Molson Coors, called the shooter “an active brewery employee.”

“Unfortunately, I am devastated to share that we lost five other members of our family in this tragic incident,” he wrote in an email sent to employees. “There are no words to express the deep sadness many of us are feeling right now.”

During a news conference outside Molson Coors, Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said, “We shouldn’t accept this.” He took up the issue later on social media, tweeting: “Another avoidable uniquely American tragedy. It’s not normal, we should never accept it, and we should never relent when ‘leaders’ offer hollow thoughts and prayers but choose inaction.”

His comments come amid the tenuous debate over the Second Amendment.

Bookseller sentenced to prison in the PRC

BEIJING – A court in the People’s Republic of China has sentenced a Swedish bookseller who promoted skeptical outlooks at the Communist Party of China to 10 years in prison for “illegally providing intelligence overseas.”

The bookseller Gui Minhai first disappeared from the public in 2015, when he was believed to have been abducted by PRC agents from his seaside home in Thailand. He and four others who worked for the same Hong Kong-based publishing company went missing around the same time, only to turn up months later in police custody in mainland China.

The Ningbo Intermediate People’s Court announced that it gave Gui, a naturalized Swedish citizen, a 10-year prison sentence, on Tuesday. Gui admitted to his crime, agreed with the sentence and would not appeal, the court said.

Human rights groups have repeatedly accused Communist China of extracting forced confessions from individuals it perceives to be opponents of the Chinese Communist Party’s hegemony.

For years, Gui sold books critical of Communist Chinese leaders in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of the PRC. His was among a series of high-profile disappearances that stirred unease over the government’s growing reach in Hong Kong, a former British colony that has been promised greater democratic rights than are afforded the mainland.

The People’s Republic of China maintains tight control over all information and brooks no criticism of its ruling political party. It has detained scores of lawyers, writers and public intellectuals from mainland China and abroad. In recent months, the police have reprimanded medical workers who warned about the ongoing outbreak of a new virus that originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan. One such worker died of the virus thereafter.

The court claims that Gui, who was born in Ningbo, applied to reinstate his PRC citizenship in 2018. That would mean renouncing his Swedish citizenship, as Communist China does not officially allow dual citizenship.

He was initially released into house arrest in Ningbo, then police detained him once again while he and two Swedish diplomats were on a train together bound for Beijing.

“We have noted the reports and are now seeking official confirmation about the case,” the Swedish Foreign Ministry wrote in an email. “We have consistently made it clear that we demand Gui Minhai be released so that he can be reunited with his daughter and family.”

The Swedish Foreign Ministry said Sweden was not given access to the trial, and that officials there were unable to review the indictment or offer Gui access to legal counsel.

“We demand–once again–that we immediately be given consular access,” the ministry said.

Gui’s arrest has been a source of friction between Beijing and Stockholm as well as between the PRC and the European Union, which said in a statement that it has raised the case with Communist Chinese authorities “on numerous occasions, both in private and publicly, including at the highest level, and will continue to do so.”

Amnesty International’s PRC researcher Patrick Poon said the verdict demonstrated that “the Chinese authorities are not letting the coronavirus crisis distract them from repressing dissidents.”

“Despite the authorities’ claim that Gui has somehow handed over ‘intelligence’ while in their custody, the reason for his targeting almost certainly relates to his attempted trip to Beijing with two Swedish diplomats in 2018,” Poon said in an emailed statement.

Colorado to become 22nd state without death penalty

DENVER – Colorado is set to become the 22nd U.S. state to abolish the death penalty after lawmakers on Wednesday approved a repeal bill that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis pledged to sign into law.

The bill, passed by the Democrat-dominated state senate in January, would apply to offenses charged starting July 1 and would not affect the fate of the three men on Colorado’s death row who face execution by lethal injection. But Polis has suggested he might consider clemency for them if asked.

“All clemency requests are weighty decisions that the governor will judge on their individual merits,” said Polis spokesman Conor Cahill.

Wednesday’s vote came after lawmakers spent three days engaging in somber and often emotional death penalty discussions that touched on morality, faith, deterrence, discrimination against defendants of color, and wrongful convictions.

Many Western states have opted to abolish capital punishment or put it on hold in recent years, and no inmates have been executed in any state west of Texas in the past five years, according to the Death Penalty Information Center in the District of Columbia.

Wyoming’s conservative legislature came close last year, and another initiative there this year had 26 Republican sponsors out of the 78 Wyoming Republican state lawmakers serving in its 100-member legislature.

And Washington State lawmakers are trying to remove the death penalty from state law with a measure that seeks to make permanent a 2018 state supreme court ruling that struck down capital punishment as arbitrary and racially biased.

In 2019, New Mexico’s supreme court set aside the death penalty for the final two inmates awaiting execution after the state’s 2009 repeal of capital punishment.

New Hampshire was the last state to repeal the death penalty, doing so last year.

Pakistani woman seeks asylum in France

DALLAS – In Pakistan a Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after spending eight years on death row, and who faced death threats from Islamists, said she is going to request asylum in France.

Asia Bibi will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday, officials reported.

Bibi has lived in Canada since she was released by the Islamic Republic of Pakistan last year. She expressed her desire to live in France in an interview on French radio RTL on Monday.

Macron’s office said French authorities are “ready to welcome Asia Bibi and her family in France if this is what they wish to do.”

Asia Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with two fellow farm workers, who refused to drink from the same water container as a Christian. Five days later, the women said Bibi had insulted Islam, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan and other Islamic countries. Bibi was charged with blasphemy despite repeatedly denying the accusation. The Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year, and she had been in protective custody since then.

Islamic extremists have rioted over the case and threatened to kill Bibi.

The case has brought international attention to Pakistan’s controversial blasphemy law, which carries an automatic death penalty. The mere suspicion of blasphemy against the Islamic faith is enough to ignite mob lynchings in the country. Blasphemy allegations have also been used to intimidate religious minorities and to settle scores.

In addition to the blasphemy law, Pakistan has also been highlighted among other Islamic states for further violations of rights for religious minorities, including the bombing of churches and non-Christian houses of worship, and forced conversions at the behest of rape, unemployment, or death.

Neo-Nazi leaders face conspiracy charges

FALLS CHURCH – Leaders of a neo-Nazi organization have been charged with conspiring to harass journalists, churches and a former Cabinet official, prosecutors on both U.S. coasts announced Wednesday.

Some of the alleged conspirators were charged with cyberstalking and sending Swastika-laden posters to journalists, telling them, “You’ve been visited by your local Nazis.”

“These defendants from across the country allegedly conspired on the internet to intimidate journalists and activists with whom they disagreed,” John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, published in a written statement.

John C. Denton, 26, of Montgomery, Texas, was charged in U.S. District Court in Virginia with a series of hoax bomb threats that prosecutors said were aimed at drawing a heavy police response to the homes or offices of the group’s targets.

Denton was arrested on Wednesday in Texas along with Kaleb J. Cole, 24, who moved to the state after he came to the attention of authorities in his home state of Washington. Both Denton and Cole appeared in federal court in the city of Houston and remained in custody pending further proceedings.

Cole was one of four defendants charged in Seattle. Prosecutors say he and the three others, as well as Denton, were members of the neo-Nazi group Atomwaffen Division.

“Atomwaffen” is a German term meaning “atomic weapons.”

According to an affidavit unsealed Wednesday, Denton was a founding member and former leader of Atomwaffen. He used the names “Rape” and “Tormentor” in online conversations while holding a day job as a mortuary worker, prosecutors said. They said his targets included a predominantly African American church in Alexandria and Old Dominion University in Norfolk.

Charging papers do not identify the former Cabinet official targeted, but a “swatting” call involving the Alexandria, Virginia, home of then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was made in January 2019, when prosecutors say the conspiracy was active.

Another man who prosecutors say is a member of Atomwaffen, Andrew Thomasberg, faces sentencing for unrelated weapons crimes in Alexandria on Friday.

In Seattle, the members cyberstalked and sent Swastika-laden posters to journalists and an employee of the Anti-Defamation league, telling them, “You have been visited by your local Nazis,” “Your Actions have Consequences,” and, “We are Watching.”

The criminal complaint includes lengthy excerpts from encrypted text conversations. Investigators warned several of the intended victims before they received the intimidating communications, indicating that they were monitoring the people making the threats.

Seattle police obtained an “extreme risk protection order” against Cole last fall, seizing nine guns from his residence. They said Cole had “gone from espousing hate to now taking active steps or preparation for an impending ‘race war.'”

Those steps including organizing paramilitary-style “hate camps” in Nevada and Washington State, investigators said.

The others arrested in Washington State were Cameron Brandon Shea, 24, of Redmond, Washington; Taylor Ashley Parker-Dipeppe, 20, of Spring Hill, Florida; and Johnny Roman Garza, 20, of Queen Creek, Arizona. Shea made an initial appearance in court, where his lawyer declined to comment. It was not immediately clear if the other two had attorneys who could speak for them.

Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge Ray Duda said Cole and the other three “posed a legitimate and escalating threat to anyone who dared counter or tried to expose their activities” and “crossed the line from protected ideas and speech to illegal acts of intimidation and coercion.”

Chris Ingalls, a reporter with Seattle’s KING-TV who had reported on the group, said Wednesday that about a month ago he received a poster in his home mailbox that featured a figure wearing a press badge and the words, “Death to Pigs.”

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which was already monitoring the group, had warned him it might be coming, he said; at one point, members of the Seattle Joint Terrorism Task Force had staked out his home to protect him and his family. Ingalls said Wednesday he was nevertheless frightened because he knew of the Atomwaffen Division’s affinity for Charles Manson, whose followers wrote “Death to Pigs” with a victim’s blood when they killed actress Sharon Tate and others.

“Atomwaffen is not just a bunch of Nazis running around in the woods,” Ingalls said. “They’re following the ‘helter skelter’ teachings of an insane killer from the 1960s. … The exposure of these guys is extremely important to me.”

Federal authorities have paid close attention to the group: at least 13 people linked to Atomwaffen Division or an offshoot called Feuerkrieg Division have been charged with crimes in a federal court since the group’s formation in 2016. Another two men who were members of Atomwaffen are facing murder charges in state courts.

These attacks come amidst the polarized Democratic and Republican nominations for 2020’s presidential election.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.