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Suffolk insurance agent sentenced to two years for scamming Portsmouth woman

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Posted at 1:18 PM, Apr 09, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-09 13:18:57-04

Portsmouth, Va. – An insurance agent from Suffolk was sentenced to two years for allegedly scamming a Portsmouth woman over the course of several years.

Joseph E. Barnes pled guilty to charges of obtaining money by false pretense in Portsmouth Circuit Court on Tuesday.

Beginning July 2005 until May 2014, Mr. Barnes had made monthly visits to the woman, collecting $30.95 directly for a term life policy.

But instead of forwarding the premiums to the company he represented, Columbian Mutual Life Insurance Company, Mr. Barnes pocketed the money.

The victim had purchased an industrial policy. Not as common as in the past; the industrial policy involves agents selling policies door to door, collecting weekly or monthly premiums directly from the policy holder. Once money was collected, a receipt book is often signed by the agent accounting for the money collected.

When the woman contacted Columbian Mutual with a question about her policy in 2014, she was advised that there was no policy under her name in effect.

An investigation was begun by the State Corporation Commission’s Bureau of Insurance and the Virginia State Police Insurance Fraud program. The investigation reveled that while Mr. Barnes’ employment with Columbian Mutual Life Insurance Company ended in 2009, he continued to collect payments from Ms. A. Hawkins.

While Columbian Mutual returned all the premium payments to Ms. Hawkins, Mr. Barnes surrendered his insurance license and began paying restitution to the insurance company.

Virginia State Police say it is important to remember that consumers should periodically verify their coverage directly with their insurance provider, especially when making cash premium payments directly to an agent.