According to the lawsuit, EquiTrust designed a scheme that defrauds policyholders, especially the elderly -- a group in need of retirement saving and spending vehicles without onerous surrender charges and lengthy maturation periods -- to create large product spreads in order to pay its agents oversized commissions, to lure prospects with illusory bonuses, and to earn a large profit margin.
To help protect this group, 47 states have adopted a consumer protection statute -- the Standard Nonforfeiture Law for Individual Deferred Annuities (SNFLIDA) -- that limits surrender penalties through a prospective test. This test generally protects those over the age of 60 from individual deferred annuity products that have optional maturity dates and surrender charges that exceed 10 percent of the policyholder's premium.
The suit claims EquiTrust's surrender charges are often 20 percent, twice the permitted amount. The SNFLIDA test also prohibits issuing such annuities to the elderly that have surrender penalty periods in excess of 10 years. EquiTrust's annuities often have surrender penalty periods of up to 14 years.
The lawsuit claims EquiTrust builds into its annuities package a maturity that occurs after the policyholders' 105th birthday. As the fine print is built into plaintiff's contracts with EquiTrust, these dates cannot be changed. This conniving tactic protects the insurance company from risk while significantly damaging the financial security of the policyholder, the suit claims.
Annuities receive a beneficial tax treatment under U.S. Tax Code in that the growth on principal within the annuity accumulates on a tax-deferred basis until the funds are withdrawn. This is a big incentive for prospective purchasers and one EquiTrust offsets by its product spread in its indexed annuities, plaintiffs claim.
The lawsuit claims the "scheme was devised and intentionally crafted to ensure that plaintiffs and class members would purchase indexed annuities and not receive full benefits from the annuities or be subject to exorbitant surrender charges."
Plaintiffs claim the class has been forced to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in premiums and surrender charges for annuity products that, by design, could not perform as advertised.
The lawsuit names several counts against EquiTrust including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), unjust enrichment and common law civil conspiracy.
The suit seeks to represent anyone who purchased an indexed annuity product from EquiTrust from 2004 until present.