My wife and I spent a very pleasurable weekend in Dallas as guests of Charles and Tracey Shreves. They operate the Spink Shreves Auction Galleries and held an informal gathering of serious stamp collectors from across America. I enjoyed viewing some amazing private collections.

Bill Gross is the most famous philatelist of United States stamps. He was supposed to be there as well, but he was pulled away to a last minute meeting with Alan Greenspan and Treasury Secretary Geithner on an allegedly more important endeavor–how to save the economy.

I know that collecting stamps seems a bit nerdy. But, when you consider that I also study insurance policies and read how obscure insurance clauses are legally interpreted, it makes a little more sense. As an adult, it is now a hobby usually done in solitude with a lot of study. Similarly, I find that most good lawyers spend a lot of time studying their area of practice in quiet reflection.

At this weekend’s gathering, I met Dan Walker, treasurer of the American Philatelic Association. When he learned what I do for a living, he shared an experience he had when he owned an insurance company that specialized in insuring collectibles.

A collector insured Civil War items for approximately $2.5 million. He reported a burglary of his entire collection, and Dan felt something was wrong. He hired an attorney and a SIU (fraud) adjuster just to check out the circumstances. Apparently, the collector had recently suffered a severe medical setback with diabetes. They learned that he had approached several dealers trying to sell his collection. When those dealers heard the collection was stolen, they suggested that it might be a fraud because they found most of the items to be forgeries. The SIU investigator tracked down a storage facility that rented space to the collector just before the alleged burglary.

Eventually, the insurance case became a criminal matter, and the collector was convicted of insurance fraud.

Dan said it was a very desperate and sad story of a person being "duped" into purchasing allegedly valuable collectibles without doing enough investigation to determine the authenticity of the items. Collectibles insurance does not cover the loss of market value if one purchases a forgery.

Collectors should always get an independent appraisal and expertization before purchasing from a dealer or at auction. Some dealers and auctioneers advertise and promote items which are not authentic, damaged or altered. Dealers often make expert repairs which are difficult to detect and make the item appear pristine. Such alterations subtract significantly from value. Items sold on eBay are notorious for this.

So always follow this rule:

When buying something of value, get the expertization from a true expert not affiliated with the dealer or seller.

Sandy Burnette and Barry Zelma would be happy to hear that Dan’s SIU team did such a great job. There is a need for such trained attorneys and adjusters. My sense from Dan Walker was that this was a very unique situation. He indicated that it was the only time he ever had to go into a courtroom in his twenty-two year insurance career.

I wonder why an insurer like State Farm would spend so much money on advertising fraud detection. It cannot be to get people to buy State Farm policies. When you consider how few of their customers ever commit fraud, why would State Farm spend money on an advertising campaign about fraud?

For example, State Farm advertised that it provided arson dogs to investigators. I cannot imagine somebody reading that advertisement and saying, "Edna, let’s go buy some State Farm insurance because they are out to get their customers that are arsonists." What is the real purpose of that advertising campaign?

Some may suggest that State Farm and others in the insurance fraud industry make up such advertisements and statistics to raise suspicion of everybody that makes a claim. Of course, those who determine the purpose of the advertising and make up the statistics are not about to reveal their motives. Consumers should question such insurance advertisements and the potential impact upon those receiving the message.

Still, none of those concerns and thoughts mean that there is not a significant need for the hard and important work of those that investigate and detect fraudulent insurance claims. It also does not mean that we need to consider every claimant a potential crook.