A major consumer group issued a paper this week that may make anyone with home or auto insurance cringe. The Consumer Federation of America said the property and casualty insurance industry has achieved record-setting profits by overcharging for insurance, shifting more risk to consumers, cutting back coverage, and paying lower claims.

In a detailed paper, the organization said insurers have done a few positive things, like making use of reinsurance, to reduce their financial risk. Their compliments stop there.

The American Insurance Association responded by calling the attacks unfounded and saying consumers continue to get a good and necessary product for their money. Last year's relatively few disasters proved an anomaly and a benefit for insurers. In fact, the organization said, prices for auto and other types of property insurance have been falling, except for coastal property insurance.

While the consumer groups and insurance industry do battle, what can you do to make sure you're getting the coverage you need at an appropriate price?

You might start by reading these two articles by a fellow Fool, Tim Beyers, laying out some Foolish advice on both homeowners insurance and auto insurance. He'll tell you what it is, what you need, and how to ask intelligently Foolish questions while shopping for policies.

You'll also want to do a little investigating of your own. The Consumer Federation advises shoppers to check with their state insurance departments to get information about company practices in their area. Check in, too, with other Fools. There's a dedicated discussion board for insurance, and insurance discussions can sometimes be found on many message boards related to homes, cars, and budgeting.

There's also no substitute for good, old-fashioned comparison shopping. Call a number of insurance companies and compare their coverage and prices. Although it might take some work, it could be quite profitable.

When you compare policies, don't just look at the bottom line. Make sure you understand the coverage completely, including any special deductibles, coverage limits, or other restrictions. Those details could make a less expensive policy much more costly if an emergency strikes.

If you do have a problem with rates or coverage, the Consumer Federation suggests you file a complaint with your state insurance agency.

For related Foolishness:

For more about insurance, and all your personal finance concerns, consider a free trial to Motley Fool Green Light. Our advisors Dayana Yochim and Shannon Zimmerman want to help you make the most of your money. You can check out the current issue, as well as the previous issues, for 30 days with no obligation to buy

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback.