In this edition we focus on tornados in New Orleans, exorbitant towing fees across the country and we check in at this year’s Insurance Fraud Management Conference.
To previous newscasts click here.
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.
* 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.
The National Health Care Anti-Fraud Association (NHCAA) recently presented its 2016 Investigation of the Year Award to NICB Supervisory Special Agent Tom Downey and Special Agent Malisa Trimble of the West Region. The Agents received the award for their “Operation Backlash” investigation, which resulted in the indictment of eight defendants in November of 2015, 13 defendants in January of 2016, and federal indictments against three individuals and four corporations.
“Operation Backlash” was an extensive 4-year multi-agency undercover operation initiated to combat entrenched corruption in the California Workers’ Compensation System (CWCS) private insurance program. The loss to CWCS was in excess of a half-billion dollars. The sheer scale of this fraud makes it one of the largest insurance bribery schemes in workers’ compensation ever uncovered in San Diego County.
In this edition of Fraud Files we focus on a multi-million dollar scam in south Florida. Seven defendants including owners, doctors, a manager, and a laboratory representative of sober homes and alcohol and drug addiction treatment centers were charged for their participation in a health care fraud and money laundering scheme that involved the filing of fraudulent insurance claim forms and defrauded health care benefit programs.
The Mississippi legislature is considering two bills that would create a specific offense for cargo theft. House Bill 722, introduced by Representative Steve Massengill (R-District 13), and Senate Bill 2184, introduced by Senator Dennis DeBar, Jr. (R-District 43), recognize the impact that cargo theft has across the entire socio-economic spectrum. The proposed legislation creates law specific to cargo theft from a railcar, commercial trailer, semitrailer, fifth wheel or container and includes substantial penalties upon conviction.
Cargo theft is a major national crime problem which adds to the cost of merchandise, food and transportation. Stolen food and pharmaceuticals pose a real health hazard and these commodities, along with electronics, continue to be the favorite target among cargo thieves.
Just consider the health implications for innocent consumers who, believing that they are getting safe and secure products, unknowingly buy stolen food or drugs which have been improperly stored or exposed to contaminants as they moved through the illicit commerce stream. Individuals who feed their greed through potentially deadly acts of cargo theft deserve the special attention that these two bills provide.
To help educate the public, NICB produced a public service announcement describing the impact of cargo theft and it has been airing on radio and television stations across the nation. It is available here.
NICB urges the Mississippi legislature to pass HB 722 and SB 2184 to provide law enforcement and prosecutors with the legislation necessary to address the public health threat posed by cargo theft.
As we’ve written in the past tow trucks scams are becoming a major issue across the country. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is warning and educating consumers about unethical and illegal practices among some rogue towing and storage operators and repair shops around the nation.
In our latest episode of Fraud Files we take a look at how states are cracking down on illegal towing fees.
Here’s a list of the most recent legislative activity involving towing laws across the country:
California – Assembly Bill 1222, Signed Into Law – September 2015
* Prohibits a towing company from stopping at an accident scene unless summoned to the scene by the owner of the vehicle, owner/operator, or requested by law enforcement
* Establishing requirements to provide proof that a tow truck driver was summoned to the scene
* Require towing companies to provide a written estimate of all charges to the vehicle operator and a signature by the vehicle operator before proceeding with the tow and maintaining a cap on the amount of the tow
* Require towing companies to maintain a record of all towing documents for a period of 3 years and to make those records available for inspection by law enforcement
* Misdemeanor penalties
* Penalties on towers who illegally solicit accident victims – Class 4 Felony
* Towers who violate the accident scene solicitation law can be sued by the vehicle owner and/or the owner’s insurer.
* Also created a statewide relocation towing commission tasked with examining the towing laws of the state and to make recommendations
Missouri – House Bill 1976 – Law Effective November 2016
* Prohibits a towing company from stopping at an accident scene unless summoned to the scene by the owner of the vehicle, owner/operator, or requested by law enforcement, unless it’s an emergency situation
* Allow vehicle owners access to storage yard and sets requirements for when storage yards to be open
* Requires towers to make available upon request a written estimate of all tow-related charges
* Requires a tow rotation list be maintained and utilized by the Missouri State Police, but local jurisdictions are not mandated to use that list
* Misdemeanor penalties for 1st offense, felony on 2nd
Ohio – House Bill 341, Signed into Law – January 2017
* Allows a civil action by insurers against a towing company operator to recover a vehicle. The vehicle is released within 2 days of the insurance company paying the “undisputed amount” of the bill from the towing company.
* NICB is working with a state lawmaker from the Pittsburgh area on legislation in 2017 to address towing abuses in Pennsylvania. The problem is most prominent in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
Anyone with information concerning tow scams can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or by visiting our web site at www.nicb.org.
As frigid temperatures and wintry blasts have hit a large section of the nation, drivers are increasingly “puffing” – warming up their parked vehicles before heading out on the road. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) warns that leaving an unlocked car running with the keys or fob inside can lead to two unwanted scenarios.
First, it makes your vehicle a prime target for an opportunistic car thief. In fact, one of out every eight vehicles stolen in 2015 had the keys or fob left inside. That can cost you a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars depending on your level of theft insurance.
Second, in an effort to reduce unnecessary thefts, many states and municipalities have passed laws banning “puffing.” It’s illegal to leave the car running and unlocked, even in your driveway. Remote starters that allow you to start the engine while the car is safely locked up without the keys are usually considered a safe alternative.
“Getting a warning or a ticket is preferable to having your car stolen,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “As we’ve reported previously, 57,000 vehicles were stolen in one year with the keys left inside. That’s one every six-and-a-half minutes. And when you add up the costs of replacing those vehicles, it’s hundreds of millions of dollars. Many of those cars are not insured against theft and the owner is left holding the bag and paying for a new car.”
NICB recently produced new public service announcements related to this issue and they are now airing on media outlets around the country. Here are the links to view them: Leaving Your Keys in Your Vehicle and Warming Up Your Car.
To view a list of states where it is illegal to leave a vehicle unattended while running click here.
The Winter Edition of our quarterly NICB News is now available. This edition looks at the Mystery Device thieves are using, thefts of vehicles with the keys left inside of them, and auto and crime issues in New Mexico.
In this edition of Fraud Files we have the story of a 1964 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray that was stolen in 1976 and recovered some 40 years later. With the help of a California Highway Patrol officer and a little bit of research from the NICB the original owner was reunited with her prized vehicle after four decades.
To view more editions of Fraud Files click here.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says new technology is being used to not only unlock and open vehicles, but to also start and steal them.
NICB recently obtained one of the so-called “mystery devices” that the public was first warned about over two years ago. At the time, thieves were being seen on security cameras across the country, using unknown devices to unlock vehicles and steal valuables inside. In recent months, NICB has noted reports of thieves not only opening the vehicles but also starting them and driving away.
The device obtained by NICB was purchased via a third-party security expert from an overseas company. It was developed by engineers in an effort to provide manufacturers and other anti-theft organizations the ability to test the vulnerability of various vehicles systems. Called a “Relay Attack” unit, this particular model only works on cars and trucks that use a keyless remote and a push-button ignition.
In a series of unscientific tests at different locations over a two-week period, 35 different makes and models of cars, SUVs, minivans and a pickup truck were tested. We partnered with NICB member company CarMax, because they are the nation’s largest used car retailer and have nearly every make and model in their inventory. Tests were also done at a new car dealership, an independent used car dealer, at an auto auction and on NICB employee vehicles and ones owned by private individuals.
The vehicles were tested to see if the device could:
* open the door
* start the vehicle
* drive it away
* turn off and restart the engine without the original fob present
The NICB was able to open 19 (54 percent) of the vehicles and start and drive away 18 (51 percent) of them. Of the 18 that were started, after driving them away and turning off the ignition, the device was used to restart 12 (34 percent) of the vehicles.
NICB says there are a number of different devices believed to be offered for sale to thieves. Some use different technology and may work on different make and models and ignition systems. More expensive models may have a greater range and better capabilities for opening and starting a vehicle.
“We’ve now seen for ourselves that these devices work,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Maybe they don’t work on all makes and models, but certainly on enough that car thieves can target and steal them with relative ease. And the scary part is that there’s no warning or explanation for the owner. Unless someone catches the crime on a security camera, there’s no way for the owner or the police to really know what happened. Many times, they think the vehicle has been towed.”
Wehrle says it’s important for law enforcement officers to be aware of this threat and be on the lookout for thieves who may be using the technology.
According to NICB’s Chief Operating Officer Jim Schweitzer, who oversees all NICB investigations, vehicle manufacturers must continue their efforts to counter the attacks on anti-theft technology.
“Vehicles are a valuable commodity and thieves will continue to wage a tug of war with the manufacturers to find a way to steal them,” said Schweitzer. “Anti-theft technology has been a major factor in reducing the number of thefts over the past 25 years. The manufacturers have made tremendous strides with their technology, but now they have to adapt and develop countermeasures as threats like this surface.”
While there may not be an effective way of preventing this kind of theft at this time, NICB advises drivers to always lock their vehicles and take the remote fob or keys with them. Drivers should also be on the lookout for suspicious persons or activity and alert law enforcement rather than confronting a possible thief.
It’s also a good idea to never invite a break-in by leaving valuables in plain sight. And once thieves get inside, they can easily steal a garage door opener and valuable papers such as the vehicle registration that could lead them to your home. So take the garage door opener with you and take a picture of your registration on your cell phone rather than keeping it in the glove compartment.