Over 637,000 Vehicles Damaged in Hurricanes Harvey and Irma

Flooded vehicles have finally stopped arriving at the Royal Purple Raceway east of Houston. Some 23,000 now await processing and retitling to be auctioned off for parts or to be scrapped. That is just one of several insurance industry salvage locations where more than 422,000 insured vehicles damaged by Harvey have been taken for processing. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), these totals surpass the number of claims that resulted from Hurricane Katrina (approx. 300,000) and from Superstorm Sandy (250,500).

In addition, more than 215,000 claims have been filed following damage to vehicles from Hurricane Irma in Florida.

These insured vehicles will be processed and rebranded with a salvage title and sold at online auctions to dismantlers who will save usable parts or have the vehicle crushed and sold for scrap.

The VIN numbers are entered into the NICB’s VINCheck database, which is free to the public and will indicate the vehicle has been damaged and branded. They are also entered into the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS).

Unfortunately, owners of even more vehicles no longer carry comprehensive coverage that covers flood damage and those vehicles are not part of the system. The owner should request a new branded title but that may not happen. In fact, many flooded vehicles that weren’t insured will be cleaned up and sold with no indication of any damage.

Some unscrupulous buyers will also buy a branded vehicles, clean it up, and take it to another state where they will obtain a “clean” title and sell it with no warning that it has been flooded.

Anyone looking to buy a vehicle in the weeks and months ahead should be on the lookout for hidden flood damage. Here are some tips.

  1. Check vehicle carpeting for water damage
  2. Check for rust on screws or other metallic items
  3. Inspect upholstery and seat belts for water stains
  4. Remove spare tire and inspect area for water damage
  5. Check the engine compartment for mud or indicators of submergence
  6. Check under the dashboard for mud or moisture
  7. Inspect headlights and taillights for signs of water
  8. Check the operation of electrical components
  9. Check for mold or a musty odor

A sea of flooded vehicles pack a raceway outside of Houston, Texas.

Aerial Imagery from Harvey and Irma Available to Public

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) announced today that it will make available to the public high-resolution aerial imagery of areas affected by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. By going to this link and typing in an address, a before-and-after comparison will be available if the property is in an affected area that has been surveyed from the air. Harvey damage is available and imagery from Irma will be posted when available.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), whose member companies write over 80 percent of all property/casualty insurance and over 90 percent of all auto insurance in the country, has been developing a system that leverages its ability to rapidly respond to catastrophes.  The system utilizes a full array of digital imagery, both on the ground and in the air, which will provide high-resolution views of properties on an address-by-address level to assess the damage.

NICB and its partners now have the capability to gather before-and-after street level and aerial views of impacted areas, and provide that information in a platform that insurers can incorporate into their existing systems to quickly view and assess damage to their policyholders’ homes, businesses and even vehicles. This same imagery will be provided at no cost to emergency personnel to assist them in their response efforts. The information will also be invaluable in fighting fraud in the aftermath of a disaster.

NICB is working with partners, such as Vexcel Imaging, the premier aerial imaging company worldwide, and Esri, the global provider of GIS mapping and spatial analytics software. NICB has created the Geospatial Intelligence Center to oversee these efforts. Eventually, the plan would be to do imaging on the ground and in the air in some 100 markets on a regular basis, and being able to respond immediately on a 24/7 basis when a catastrophe strikes to provide comparisons that will assist in damage assessment.

“This technology takes the industry response to a catastrophe to a whole new level,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “The response to our initiative has been overwhelmingly positive based on feedback I have received during my meetings with emergency personnel, law enforcement and our insurance company members in Texas. We believe it is also important to share this with those who have been impacted by the Hurricanes.”

NICB’s long history of a strong working relationship with emergency and law enforcement personnel has made this possible. The Texas Department of Public Safety and other local and federal officials have enthusiastically supported this effort, and provided NICB with access and support during the Harvey response.

For an in-depth look at this program, click here to watch our video.

Beware Harvey Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Flooded cars near the Addicks Reservoir in Houston, TX. (David J. Phillip, File/Associated Press)

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is warning the nation’s consumers that vehicles flooded by Hurricane Harvey may soon be appearing for sale around the nation.

After a disaster, NICB works with its member companies, law enforcement and auto auction companies to identify the vehicles that have had an insurance claim filed and to process them for sale. All of the cars, deemed to be a total loss, will be retitled with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the new title will indicate the fact that the vehicle has been flood damaged. Most of the vehicles are sold to parts’ companies who will dismantle them and re-sell usable parts that were not damaged by the flooding.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is also entered into the NICB’s VINCheck® and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) database.

NICB’s VINCheck allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in the program. Insurers representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market provide their salvage data to the program. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered. VINCheck is a free public service available at: www.nicb.org/vincheck.

Keeping damaged cars out of the hands of unsuspecting buyers is a major focus of the industry. Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged.

NICB warns that buyers be particularly careful in the coming weeks and months as thousands of Harvey-damaged vehicles may reappear for sale in their areas. Vehicles that were not insured may be cleaned up and put up for sale by the owner or an unscrupulous dealer with no disclosure of the flood damage.

Buyers should have a vehicle checked by a reputable mechanic or repair facility before handing over any cash.

Consumer Resources

Photos: Harvey Hits Texas Hard

The following images have been sent in by NICB staff members and law enforcement personnel affected by Harvey.

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Images of Hurricane Harvey’s Damage

The following images were sent in by NICB personnel affected by the storms in Texas.

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Hurricane Harvey Victims: Avoid Post-Disaster Scams

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is working with law enforcement agencies, the state departments of insurance and insurance companies to warn victims about post-disaster rebuilding scams.

After a disaster, contractors will often go door-to-door in neighborhoods that have sustained damage to offer clean up and/or construction and repair services. Most of these people are reputable, but many are not. The dishonest ones may execute schemes to defraud innocent victims. One common scheme is to pocket the payment and never show up for the job, or never complete a job that was started. Another scheme is to use inferior materials and perform shoddy work that is not up to code in order to pocket more profit. Continue reading

NICB Warns New Orleans Tornado Victims of Scams

As the New Orleans area recovers from the damage caused by a string of powerful tornadoes, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reminds consumers that in the weeks ahead, homeowners in disaster areas should be alert to the potential for fraud by unscrupulous contractors and home repair businesses.

After a disaster, contractors often go door-to-door in affected neighborhoods offering clean up and/or construction and repair services. Most are reputable, but many are not. One common scheme is to pocket a down-payment and then never show up for the job, or never complete a job that was started. Another scheme is to use inferior materials and perform shoddy work that is not up to code in order to increase profit.

NICB has personnel in the affected areas assisting our member insurance companies and a video of the area is available here.

“If you didn’t request it, reject it”

Almost all of these scams are unsolicited—they begin with a visit from a contractor who seeks to help victims rebuild. That is why NICB recommends that “if you didn’t request it, reject it.” Before hiring any contractor, call your insurance company. Your insurance company will honor its policy so there is no need to rush into an agreement with a contractor who solicits your repair work—especially when you did not request it. NICB suggests you consider these tips before hiring a contractor:

* Get more than one estimate.

* Get everything in writing. Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations should be detailed.

* Demand references and check them out.

* Ask to see the salesperson’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number.

* Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later.

* Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code.

* Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.

* Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them.

* Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language.

* Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company.

Consumer Resources

* For a free brochure with tips to avoid post-disaster fraud, click here.

* For useful checklists, including how to spot flood and salvage vehicle scams and post-disaster contractor repair schemes, click here.

* For free consumer access to the vehicle salvage records of participating NICB member insurance companies who collectively provide 88 percent of the auto insurance in force today, access NICB’s VINCheck.

Smokies Wildfires Devastate Tennessee Communities

1632399_1280x720The recent wildfires that quickly ripped through Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains threatened the lives of tens of thousands of residents in the Gatlinburg area. The fire, likely a result of arson, has already claimed the lives of 11 people as of Friday morning.

Right now, insurance company representatives are in the field staffing catastrophe centers and working non-stop to assist victims in rebuilding their lives, their homes and their businesses. As hard as these professionals work to quickly handle the thousands of claims that these kinds of events generate, there are always some victims who experience additional pain—not from the fires, but from greedy scam artists and unscrupulous contractors.

After a natural disaster salespeople go door to door in damaged neighborhoods, offering cleanup or repair services. While many of these are honest and reputable, others are not. The dishonest ones may pocket the payment without completing the job or use inferior materials and perform shoddy work not up to code.

NICB suggests you consider these tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate
  • Get everything in writing.  Cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations should be detailed
  • Demand references and check them out
  • Ask to see the contractor’s driver’s license and write down the license number and their vehicle’s license plate number
  • Never sign a contract with blanks; unacceptable terms can be added later
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a completion certificate until the work is finished and ensure reconstruction is up to current code
  • Make sure you review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier
  • Never let a contractor pressure you into hiring them
  • Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company

You can download our disaster fraud brochure and other fraud awareness materials here.

If you believe you have been approached by an unscrupulous contractor or adjuster, or have been encouraged to fabricate an insurance claim, contact your insurance company or call the NICB toll-free at 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422). You may also text keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or report it online by visiting our Web site at www.nicb.org.

Hurricane Matthew Could Bring a Storm of Fraudsters

As Hurricane Matthew begins to approach Florida and the southeastern part of the United States damage and significant flooding is expected. The National Insurance Crime Bureau is warning residents of these areas to be on alert for contractor scams after the storm passes.

Becoming a victim of a natural disaster may be impossible to avoid. You can, however, avoid being victimized by dishonest contractors often found lurking in their wake.

After a natural disaster, salespeople go door to door in damaged neighborhoods, offering cleanup or repair services. While many of these businesses are honest and reputable, others are not. The dishonest ones may pocket the payment without completing the job or use inferior materials and perform shoddy work not up to code.

The NICB recommends these tips before you act on a contractor’s offer for services.

  • Work with only licensed and insured contractors.
  • Get more than one estimate. Don’t be pushed into signing a contract right away.
  • Get everything in writing.
  • Require references, and check them out.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks. Fraudulent contractors may enter unacceptable terms later.
  • Never pay in full.

For more tips you can download our disaster fraud brochure here.