Counterfeit air bags are a hidden threat

Share

Vehicle air bags, also known as supplemental restraint systems, have come a long way since they debuted in the 1970s. At that time, air bags were limited to the front and deployed the same way for every occupant and crash. While the air bags of yesteryear were valuable, they come nowhere close to the protection and sophistication of today’s air bags.

Many vehicles nowadays have 10 or more air bags strategically located throughout the vehicle cabin, such as knee, center, rear curtain, and even seatbelt air bags. In the event of a crash, sensors within the vehicle register the force and location of the collision, the position and size of the vehicle occupants, and calculates which air bags to deploy and the speed and pressure of the deployment – all in just about 30 milliseconds.

The results are nothing less than lifesaving. From 1987 to 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates nearly 45,000 lives have been saved by frontal air bags. Consumers that own air bag equipped vehicles have come to embrace the added protection and expect the air bags to work without flaw. That is why the prospect of counterfeit air bags is so alarming.

When consumers must have an air bag replaced, there is an inherent belief that the air bag installed is a genuine manufacturer’s air bag for their vehicle. In fact, consumers have no way of knowing otherwise.

Counterfeit air bags are a national and growing concern. Usually procured online by unsuspecting consumers shopping for a bargain, or by unscrupulous vehicle repair ships out to pad their profits, these air bags just don’t work. The NHTSA states that counterfeit air bags have been shown to “consistently malfunction,” from non-deployment to the expulsion of metal shrapnel during deployment.

“It’s among the most insidious forms of insurance fraud,” says Matthew Smith, Director of Government Affairs and General Counsel for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. “Phony air bags are dangerous and can kill; it’s like a time bomb on four wheels.”

However, there are ways consumers can help protect themselves and their passengers from being scammed:

  1. When turning on the ignition, look for the air bag dashboard light (check your owner’s manual if you do not know what it looks like). If the light stays on, starts flashing, or doesn’t flash on at all, your air bag system probably isn’t working.
  2. Before you purchase a used vehicle, make sure to have it inspected by a trusted, certified mechanic. Ask them to specifically check the air bags.
  3. If your vehicle is involved in a crash in which an air bag deployed, consider having the air bag replaced at an authorized car dealership repair shop.
  4. Support state legislation that criminalizes the manufacture, sale and installation of counterfeit air bags.

Alan Haskins, Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says, “Only 17 states have adopted counterfeit air bag laws, but the rest are starting to catch-up. We, along with industry partners, are advocating for counterfeit air bag laws in all 50 states, and just this year alone the NICB is tracking and engaged in counterfeit air bag bills in seven states.”

For more information on how to protect yourself as a consumer, visit the web pages on air bag scams of the National Insurance Crime Bureau or the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

State elected officials or staff interested in strengthening their counterfeit air bag laws should contact NICB’s government affairs department at GovernmentAffairs@nicb.org or 800-447-6282.

Successful Insurance Card Operation – Cape Coral, Florida

Share

The NICB helped organize an insurance card operation in Southwest Florida, focused on keeping the roads safe from uninsured drivers.  Local law enforcement recognizes that insurance fraud is an issue in Southwest Florida and regularly works with the NICB to continue to combat the problem.

NICB Agents Eddie Hernandez and Joy Shanafelt briefing the officers

The operation took place between the hours of 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 13. A total of 21 officers made stops across the city, including officers from Florida Highway Patrol, Fort Myers Police Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, and the Cape Coral Police Department.

Captain Mike Torregrossa of the Cape Coral Police Department speaking to the operation participants

Insurance representatives were on hand to take calls from the officers, ready to validate insurance card information of those who were stopped. Thirteen insurance claim investigators were present to assist, along with four NICB Agents.

NICB Agent Eddie Hernandez (left) and NICB Agent David Price – (right)

During the five hour period, 75 stops were made, 45 citations were issued (13 of those insurance related). Additionally, 65 written warnings were handed out, and one non-insurance related arrest was made.

Local coverage of the event from NBC2 News

Heavy Equipment ID Training at World AG Expo

Share

On February 11, 2019, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), in cooperation with the International Agri-Center, conducted a law enforcement heavy equipment identification training day at the 52nd Annual World AG Expo in Tulare, CA. 

NICB Special Agent Neil Carmody discussing heavy equipment theft statistics

This annual training affords law enforcement professionals the opportunity to interact with representatives from the heavy equipment industry and inspect their equipment for identification serial numbers.  This training helps law enforcement to identify stolen equipment and their related components. 

John Deere’s Bryan Thul discussing John Deere PIN plates

This year’s key note presenter was Mr. Bryan Thul of the John Deere Company, who addressed approximately 60 law enforcement officers from throughout California. 

A group shot during Mr. Thul’s presentation

Representatives from Bobcat and Kubota were also on hand to interact with attendees.  This year’s training was hosted by NICB Special Agent Neil Carmody and assisted by Special Agents Lou Koven and Gabe Marquez.

NICB West Region Task Force Activity for 2018

Share

*Article updated 1/29/19 with new numbers from additional task force reporting.

The NICB West Region Auto Theft Task Force numbers for 2018 show an impressive number of stolen vehicle recoveries. The West Region includes the states of California, Hawaii, Arizona, and Nevada, and the task forces include NICB employees, along with local, county, and state law enforcement.

Totals from 11 separate task forces reveal in 2018, 5,354 stolen vehicles were recovered. The value of those recovered vehicles adds up to $49,739,260.00.

Vehicle recoveries are just one part of the task forces workload. They also assist with investigations, arrests, searches, inspections, uncovering chop shops, training, and much more.

 

NICB West Region Special Agent Travels Abroad to Train in INTERPOL Effort

Share

NICB’s experience fighting insurance fraud and vehicle crime often leads to assisting groups internationally.  On December 3-4, 2018, Special Agent Neil Carmody did just that. He traveled to Accra, Ghana, to train law enforcement officials from the West African countries of Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Gambia, as part of INTERPOL’s “Project Adwenpa – Specialized Border Management Training.”

The goal of the project was to strengthen port and land border law enforcement management efforts and enhance communication and cooperation between nations in the region. Topics included North American Vehicle Identification, U.S. Theft Trends, VIN Switching, Export Fraud and Open Source Investigative Resources.

NICB Special Agent Neil Carmody (left) pictured with Ms. Theresa Finda Lebbe of Liberia Customs and Sgt. Nathan Rickets, London Metro Police

“The instruction focused on physical indicators to properly identify vehicles as well as indicators of counterfeit VIN numbers, fraudulent labels, and VIN plates, to detect potential theft,” Carmody said. Carmody co-instructed the class on vehicle theft with Sgt. Nathan Rickets of the London Metro Police Department.

Students, instructors and INTERPOL officials upon completion of field practical exercises at a Ghana Customs vehicle impound yard

Following classroom training, students participated in a practical field exercise at a Ghana Customs impound yard, identifying 10 stolen vehicles: six Range Rovers, two BMWs, one Lexus and one Jeep Wrangler, nine of which were VIN switches. The stolen vehicles originated in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Ukraine and Canada.

2018 Foreign Operations Repatriation Statistics

Share

During 2018, Foreign Operations located 2,536 vehicles and recovered 2,485 vehicles from foreign countries. The total number of vehicles repatriated in 2018 is a 4.5-percent increase from the number of vehicles recovered in 2017, which totaled 2,378 vehicles.

Below is a brief overview of the top recovery cities, top makes/models located, and top theft cities based on the 2,536 vehicles located during 2018.

Top 5 Recovery Cities
1. Tijuana, Baja California (880)
2. Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua (140)
3. Nogales, Sonora (136)
4. Hermosillo, Sonora (101)
5. Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas (100)

Top 5 Makes Located
1. Ford (412)
2. Chevrolet (405)
3. Nissan (308)
4. Toyota (222)
5. Honda (177)

Top 5 Models Located
1. Ford F150 (145)
2. Chevrolet Silverado (108)
3. Toyota Camry (90)
4. Nissan Altima (74)
5. Honda Accord (72)

Top 5 Theft Cities by ORI
1. San Diego Police Department (217)
2. El Paso Police Department (130)
3. Phoenix Police Department (96)
4. California Highway Patrol- San Diego (92)
5. Tucson Police Department (75)

NICB West Region Task Forces – Vehicle Recovery Numbers

Share

NICB’s West Region Auto Theft Task Forces were hard at work during the month of November. These task forces, from California, Nevada, Hawaii, and Arizona, are made up of local, county, and state law enforcement, along with agents from the NICB.

During the month of November, 11 separate Vehicle Task Forces recovered a total of 411 stolen vehicles, valued at $4,184,910.

Of note – Delta RATT investigators located two ransacked stolen vehicles dumped near the residence of a male probationer with two outstanding felony warrants. When investigators appeared to search the residence, the man hid in the attic. A police K-9 forced the man to surrender after the man fell through the living room ceiling. The man now faces resisting arrest charges, and faces seven years in prison on the outstanding warrants.

In addition to recovering stolen vehicles and helping return them to their rightful owners, these teams make auto theft related arrests, serve search warrants, launch investigations, conduct vehicle inspections, investigate chop shops, and assist other law enforcement agencies.

 

New Public Service Announcements from the NICB

Share

The NICB recently released a new package of Public Service Announcements. These PSAs focus on two major issues, preventing auto theft, and recognizing medical fraud after an auto accident.

The preventing auto theft PSA aims to inform drivers of simple steps they can take to keep their vehicle safe.

The other, regarding medical fraud, focuses on anyone who has been involved in an auto accident. Accident victims are often targeted by fraudsters, who want to make quick cash by defrauding insurance companies. The PSA gives practical tips on best practices regarding what to do, and not to do, after an auto accident.

Preventing Auto Theft: https://youtu.be/vPWgcITM_ug

Auto Accident Related Medical Fraud: https://youtu.be/ApEpaOshrCc 

These PSAs are available for use by media outlets and websites. Each topic has a 30 and 60-second version, and is available in English and Spanish. For anyone who needs access to raw files or audio files, please complete our media request form.

Towing oversight legislation needed to protect consumers from wreck chasers

Share

Automobile accidents are a harrowing experience. In the immediate aftermath of an accident, a driver may be dealing with missing work or an appointment, distressed children, potential liability issues and traffic violations, other motorists trying to circumvent the wreck, and even injuries. This high-stress situation creates the perfect opportunity for an unscrupulous towing company take advantage of a consumer.

This often comes in the form of overzealous solicitation, excessive fees, and shady business practices that delay or make it difficult for owners to retrieve their vehicles.

Over the past few years, responding to these rogue practices, there has been an uptick in towing-reform legislation by states and municipalities, such as Arizona, California, and Missouri. In July 2018, the National Council of Insurance Legislators (NCOIL) adopted model towing legislation that included a number of consumer protections:

Licensing or registration: State or municipal licensing of towers can help authorities know who is towing vehicles, set minimum standards, and hold bad actors accountable.

Restricting solicitation at accident scenes: Often, dishonest towers will listen to police scanners and attempt to swoop onto an accident scene without being called. Motorists assume law enforcement called the tower and consent to the tow without the benefit of consulting a tow rotation list or their insurer.

Requiring a written estimate of charges prior to towing: Requiring towers to provide, prior to towing, a written estimate is among the best protections government can extend to consumers. Without a written estimate, some towers have been known to attempt to charge motorists $1,000 for a few-mile tow and hold the car hostage (with incurring storage fees) until it is paid.

Fair fees: Without setting towing charges, legislators should require fees be rational and prohibit the add-on of vague fees, such as transfer, gasoline, gate fees, or excessive administrative fees.

Reasonable access: Towers should be required to store towed vehicles at a conspicuous, known location, and consumers should have the right to recover, inspect, or retrieve personal items from their vehicle during normal business hours. Mandating reasonable access helps prevent towers from racking-up storage fees by limiting access.

Tim Lynch, Senior Director of Government Affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) said NCOIL’s towing model was the culmination of a two-year effort among insurance companies and their trade groups, NICB, state lawmakers, and towing interests. “Robust laws combined with swift enforcement are needed to make these protections truly meaningful,” Lynch said.

Jack Quinn, NICB Senior Special Agent and former Philadelphia police officer has been on the scene of hundreds of accidents. He says he has seen a much-improved towing climate since Philadelphia adopted in 2017 a towing ordinance that established a tow rotation list. “The tow list has resulted in a reduction of tow-abuse, and provides consumers peace of mind,” Quinn says.

Elected officials or staff interested in strengthening their consumer protections related to accident scene tows should contact NICB’s government affairs department at GovernmentAffairs@nicb.org or 800-447-6282.

Southwest Region Holds Seventh Auto Theft Investigation Course of 2018

Share

NICB’s Southwest Region completed the last (in a series of seven) auto theft investigation course at the South Padre Island Convention Center in Texas this week. This last three day course ran from November 27th to 29th, and was sponsored by the NICB, the South Padre Island Police Department, and the Brownsville Police Department.

The class, attended by nearly 100 law enforcement and SIU individuals, was instructed by NICB and law enforcement personnel with vehicle theft expertise. NICB instructors included Southwest Region agents SSA John Mitchell and SA Israel Pacheco. Other speakers came from the Texas DMV, Texas Parks and Wildlife, the State Fire Marshall, Texas Department of Insurance, Travelers Insurance, DPS, and the McAllen and Brownsville police departments.

This past year, the basic auto theft investigation course has been delivered in Arkansas, New Mexico, Louisiana, and San Antonio, El Paso and Grand Prairie, Texas.

In total, over 400 law enforcement and SIU personnel have attended this series of courses during 2018.