Unusually destructive storms aren’t the only things that drive up insurance rates. People do, too.

Some people see insurance coverage as a potential big payoff for little work, by filing fabricated or exaggerated claims. To the extent they succeed, we all have to pay more for coverage.

The National Insurance Claim Bureau — an industry-supported nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing, detecting and stopping insurance fraud — tracks and analyzes questionable insurance claims.

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The claims are referred to the bureau for review based on one or more indicators of possible fraud. Such indicators include faked or exaggerated injury, slip and fall, staged accident, possible arson and inflated damage estimate.

Last week, the bureau reported that questionable claims in New Jersey increased 26 percent from 2009 to 2011, from 1,509 to 1,903.

Happily, metropolitan areas in our region bucked this trend, with decreases in such claims.

In Atlantic County, dubious claims declined from 37 in 2009 to 28 in 2011. In Cape May County, they dropped from seven to five. Cumberland County saw an increase from 11 to 14 in 2010 before dropping to eight claims in 2011.

The big numbers in questionable claims and big increases were in North Jersey. In 2011, there were 131 such claims in Newark, 84 in Patterson, 81 in Elizabeth and 73 in Jersey City.

The North Jersey-New York metro area saw such claims jump from 899 in 2010 to 1,322 in 2011. The South Jersey-Philadelphia metro area had an increase from 162 in 2009 to 179 in 2011.

The most common types of losses questionably claimed were bodily injury, personal injury, and auto collision and theft, the bureau said.

Anyone with information about possible insurance fraud can report it anonymously to the bureau by calling 800-835-6422.

Home prices lower

Even before Hurricane Sandy, the local and state housing markets were under price pressure, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency’s third-quarter home price index.

Prices for New Jersey homes purchased in the quarter were down a half-percent from the second quarter and 1 percent lower than the year before. U.S. house prices rose 1 percent in the quarter and 4 percent in the year.

Three states saw bigger price declines than New Jersey: New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Maine.

Atlantic County saw larger house-price declines in the FHFA survey of mortgage purchases and refinancings, falling 1 percent for the quarter and nearly 4 percent from the year before.

Of the 304 metropolitan areas surveyed by the agency, only 13 suffered larger home-price declines than Atlantic County.

Cape May County’s housing market fared much better, with prices rising more than 1 percent in the quarter to leave them up a third of a percent for the year.

In Cumberland County, among smaller statistical areas with only an annual FHFA price index, house prices were nearly 1 percent lower from the year before.

Homeowner help

The FHFA’s parent, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development, offers temporary mortgage-relief options for those affected by Hurricane Sandy who have mortgages owned by its Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac entities.

One option is forbearance, the temporary suspension or reduction of a mortgage payment, for up to 12 months.

Another is loan modification, a change in the original terms of the mortgage — longer term, interest rate — to reduce the monthly payment to a more affordable amount.

HUD suggests contacting the servicer of the mortgage and asking them to explore possible mortgage relief through HUD.

If that doesn’t work, call the department’s HOPE hot line at 888-995-4673.

Homeowners can find out whether their loans are owned by Fannie Mae by visiting www.knowyouroptions.com/loanlookup. For Freddie Mac, visit www.freddiemac.com/mymortgage

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