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July 31st, 2002 Chris Lydgate | Rogue of the Week
 

Michael B. Woodward / Secure Tomorrow's

     
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Some rogues just don't know when to quit. Take entrepreneur Michael B. Woodward of Vancouver, Wash., a former insurance salesman whose innovative scheme to take advantage of little old ladies has earned him a place in our hall of shame.

In happier times, Woodward, 39, was one of Oregon's most successful insurance agents. Last year, however, the state Insurance Division revoked his license after an administrative law judge ruled that he engaged in "untrustworthy and dishonest practice."

According to the judge, Woodward, who specialized in elderly clients, visited three policyholders who had previously purchased coverage from him, under the guise of renewing their old policies-at least, that's what the clients thought they were doing. In fact, however, Woodward actually signed them up for additional coverage at lucrative premiums for him.

In June 1999, for example, Woodward came to see Carmadean Byars, 81, at her home. Woodward had already sold Byars a long-term care policy through the Equitable Life & Casualty Insurance Company, which-unbeknownst to her-had been suspended by Equitable. Now he sold her a life-insurance policy with a different company, even though she already had life insurance. She didn't want more life insurance, she later testified-she thought she was simply renewing her long-term care policy.

Woodward argued that the episode-and two similar cases also involving octogenarians-was simply a "misunderstanding."

The judge didn't buy it. "The facts and circumstances of the three transactions are too similar to be a matter of coincidence," she wrote. "They reflect a pattern of false representation, manipulation, and dishonesty."

But wait, there's more.

Barred from selling insurance, Woodward set up a new Vancouver business, Secure Tomorrow's (that's his apostrophe, not ours), to hawk "pre-paid home services," which look and smell suspiciously like insurance.

The idea is that clients pay in advance for services such as cleaning, cooking and bathing. Then, if their health deteriorates, they will have someone to take care of them at home.

Although Woodward insists his product has nothing-nothing!-to do with insurance, there are striking similarities. Like an insurance agent, Woodward visits the homes of elderly prospects, where he extols the virtues of planning for the future. Instead of policies, he pushes "service agreements." Instead of premiums, clients pay "subscriptions."

There are other, more substantial differences. Legitimate policies are backed by the financial muscle of massive insurance companies (Equitable, for example, has assets topping $463 billion). Secure Tomorrow's has a piggy-bank of $100,000, Woodward says.

Oh yeah, and legitimate insurance agents must be licensed-but Woodward's license has been revoked both in Oregon and Washington.

Some of Woodward's clients are less than happy. "I think he's a stinker," says Carol Husted, 82, of Lebanon, Ore. She and her husband, Edgar, 84, signed up with Secure Tomorrow's in December 2000. The Husteds' contract stated that they were entitled to 90 days of care. But when liver cancer sent Edgar to the hospital in March this year, Woodward initially refused to pay for more than two weeks of care.

"He said, 'That's all I've authorized you for,'" says the Husteds' home-health-care caseworker, Diane Cummings, who was outraged by Woodward's stinginess.

Woodward eventually agreed to cover two more weeks-meaning that Edgar, who pre-paid for three months of care, actually received care for just 28 days. Doctors now give him a few months to live,

"They're obviously taking advantage of senior citizens, like so many people do," Carol Husted told WW.

In a telephone interview, Woodward denied any wrongdoing in the case of the Husteds or with any other clients. "I want a favorable solution for everyone," he told WW. "I'm into making clients happy."

He also pointed out that Secure Tomorrow's contracts specify that the 90 days must be continuous-and that the Husteds wanted to receive their care piecemeal.

Whether Woodward's business is essentially insurance by another name is currently the subject of an investigation by the Oregon Insurance Division. "Our investigations unit is reviewing the contract," says John Piper.

Insurance or not, however, it is clear from the judge's ruling that Woodward engaged in despicable exploitation of vulnerable elderly victims, and it is clear from WW's interview that he has no intention of revising his business model.

Comments regarding Woodward or Secure Tomorrow's may be directed to Manager of Investigations Cindy Jones at the Oregon Insurance Division, (503) 947-7219.

 
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