Honest customers are being penalised with higher premiums after contacting their insurers with innocent queries.
Some are being hit for hikes of hundreds of pounds after simply notifying firms of minor incidents that did not involve making claims.
Others were similarly stung merely for inquiring about their policy excesses, experts say.
The practice is defended by firms on the grounds that such inquiries, logged on a central industry database, raise “risk profiles”.
They maintain that this indicates policyholders who are more likely to make claims.
But experts say the money-grabbing tactic is “endemic” and is costing policyholders millions.
Car drivers are thought to be hardest hit by it but it is also believed to affect people querying damage to buildings or theft of property.
One driver rang his insurer to ask if it was worth claiming for hailstone damage but decided not to.
But at renewal time he saw a note flash up on price comparison sites saying he had made a claim.
The 54-year-old from Selby, North Yorks, was offered £50 compensation but is now worried about future quotes.
Martyn James of consumer complaints site Resolver said firms treated such inquiries as “claimable incidents”, adding: “It’s completely unfair.”
Matt Oliver of price comparison site GoCompare said: “If you notify an insurer after any accident or damage, even if a claim is unlikely, you could be deemed a higher risk of making a claim or committing an offence in the future.”
The Financial Ombudsman Service said it was seeing a rise in related complaints.
But Malcolm Tarling of the Association of British Insurers said: “Telling your insurer that you do not want to make a claim does not automatically mean your premium will go up.”
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