The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

October 10, 2013

What’s In A (Domain) Name? Lookalike Site In Wash. Raises Concerns

By Phil Galewitz
Associated Press

— Washington Healthplanfinder is the name of the state’s online insurance exchange. But a private insurance agency is using the domain name “washingtonhealthplanfinder.org” to sign people up for policies.

Confused? State officials want to make certain consumers won’t be.

“We are aware of this site and … forwarded to our Washington State Office of the Insurance Commissioner for investigation,” said exchange spokeswoman Bethany Frey.

Officials in many states have long been monitoring the Web for look-alike websites that can result in fraud — or simply consumer confusion.

The copycat website in Washington resembles a state exchange, offering plans for individuals and businesses and informing visitors that open enrollment starts Oct 1. But the site is actually owned by a Seattle-based insurance agency. In small print, at the bottom of the site’s home page, it says that it “is in no way associated with the official Washington Exchange web site.”

Jeff Lindstrom, a partner with the Health Insurance Team insurance agency, said he he purchased the domain name last winter — around the same time the exchange chose Washington Healthplanfinder as its name. He said he told exchange officials last spring he would sell them the domain name but that they declined to negotiate. He refused to say whether his site would be confusing to people searching for the exchange.

Lindstrom said he has applied to become a licensed agency to sell insurance products available on the exchange but is uncertain whether he has that status. “Our website is built with the intent to be where our consumers are,” he said.

One clue that the site is not the real deal is its Medicare offerings. The Affordable Care Act exchanges don’t offer policies for people on Medicare.

The real Washington exchange says if people are unsure they are on the right site, they should call Washington Healthplanfinder toll-free at 1-855-WAFINDER. If they suspect a site is fraudulent, they should contact the state insurance commissioner’s office at 1-800-562-6900.

Experts suggest that to avoid confusion, consumers should first head to the federal website healthcare.gov. On that site, they will be directed to the official marketplace for their state.