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.

NICB Agents Receive Investigation of the Year Award

Courtesy: San Diego County DA

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.

The case aggressively targeted a vast web of multiple conspiracies involving doctors, attorneys, and chiropractors working with patient call centers, ancillary service providers, and medical marketers. The targets all paid and received several million dollars in illegal kickbacks.
To date, a total of 22 individuals and 10 corporations have been indicted and plea agreements have been secured with 6 individuals and 3 corporations tallying over $2.1 million in forfeitures. As a result of these actions, 13 criminal organizations have been disrupted and 3 criminal organizations have been dismantled.

SSA Tom Downey and SA Malisa Trimble with their NHCAA Investigation of the Year Award

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.

When Hail Hits Storm Chasers Arrive

The recent hail storm that damaged thousands of homes and vehicles in the Colorado Springs area has once again attracted an onslaught of “storm chasers” – unscrupulous contractors going door-to-door to try to get victims to let them repair their roofs or other hail damage.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says Colorado was second only to Texas in the number of hail damage insurance claims from 2013 to 2015 (Hail Claims).

NICB warns that the thousands of homeowner damage claims and millions of dollars that are being paid out by their insurance companies have resulted in a dramatic increase in the number of contractors claiming to be “licensed” and going door-to-door, without being invited, to solicit business. All too frequently, victims will allow them to go up on their roofs to inspect for damage, without knowing if the company has a valid license or has proper business insurance. Homeowners may find themselves liable if someone is injured on the roof without proper workers compensation or business insurance.

In some cases, the contractors will take the victim’s money, make limited repairs or no repairs at all, and disappear – leaving the property owner victimized a second time.

Working with a coalition of insurance industry, consumer, contractor industry and government groups, NICB is urging consumers to know their rights under legislation passed in the state in 2014 to protect them from high pressure tactics. Those include the right to know the following:

  • Scope of work and materials to be provided.
  • Cost for same based on damages known at the time the contract is entered into.
  • Approximate dates of service.
  • Roofing contractor’s contact information.
  • Identification of contractor’s surety and liability coverage insurer and their contact information.
  • Contractor’s policy regarding cancellation of contract and refund of any deposit including a rescission clause allowing the property owner to rescind the contract for roofing services and obtain a full refund of any deposit within 72 hours after entering the contract.
  • A statement that if the property owner plans to pay for the roofing services through an insurance claim, the contractor cannot pay, waive or rebate the homeowner’s insurance deductible in part or in whole.
  • A statement that the contractor shall hold in trust any payment from the property owner until the contractor has delivered roofing materials to the job site or has performed a majority of the roofing work on the property.
NICB reminds victims to do their homework and resist the pressure from unwelcomed contractors. Remember, if you didn’t request it, reject it! For more information on the Colorado campaign on social media search #NoRoofScams.

America’s 10 Most Stolen Vehicles

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) released its annual Hot Wheels report which identifies the 10 most stolen vehicles in the United States. The report examines vehicle theft data submitted by law enforcement to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) and determines the vehicle make, model and model year most reported stolen in 2015.

Included with today’s release is a list of the top 25 2015 vehicle makes and models that were reported stolen in calendar year 2015.

For 2015, the most stolen vehicles* in the nation were (total thefts in parentheses):

1. 1996 Honda Accord                    (52,244)
2. 1998 Honda Civic                        (49,430)
3. 2006 Ford Pickup (Full Size)         (29,396)
4. 2004 Chevrolet Pickup (Full Size) (27,771)
5. 2014 Toyota Camry                     (15,466)
6. 2001 Dodge Pickup (Full Size)     (11,212)
7. 2014 Toyota Corolla                    (10,547)
8. 2015 Nissan Altima                     (10,374)
9. 2002 Dodge Caravan                    (9,798)
10. 2008 Chevrolet Impala                (9,225)

See the national report here. Download the 50-state report here.

The following are the top 10 2015 model year vehicles stolen during calendar year 2015:

1. Nissan Altima            (1,104)
2. Chrysler 200             (1,069)
3. Toyota Camry              (923)
4. Toyota Corolla             (776)
5. GMC Sierra                 (670)
6. Dodge Charger           (666)
7. Hyundai Sonata          (632)
8. Chevrolet Malibu         (629)
9. Chevrolet Impala         (594)
10. Chevrolet Cruze        (586)

Download the complete list of 2015’s top 25 most stolen from this spreadsheet.

“While older vehicles still dominate our Hot Wheels most stolen list, the number of late model vehicles with anti-theft protection on the list goes to show that technology isn’t foolproof,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Criminals are doing their best to defeat anti-theft technology through hacking and other means while, at the same time, manufacturers and others are working to improve security.

“Far too often, drivers leave their vehicles unlocked or with the keys inside, making it way too easy for an opportunistic thief. And as we noted recently, many stolen cars are not reported as typical thefts to police because many of today’s thefts are financial crimes involving complicated VIN switching, cloning, straw buyers, illegal exports and other sophisticated criminal methods.”

Vehicle theft is a severe economic hardship for its victims—especially if a vehicle is uninsured. That is why NICB continues to advise all drivers to review our four “Layers of Protection”:

Common Sense: Lock your car and take your keys. It’s simple enough, but many thefts occur because owners make it easy for thieves to steal their cars.

Warning Device: Having and using a visible or audible warning device is another item that can ensure that your car remains where you left it.

Immobilizing Device: Generally speaking, if your vehicle can’t be started, it can’t be stolen. “Kill” switches, fuel cut-offs and smart keys are among the devices that are extremely effective.

Tracking Device: A tracking device emits a signal to the police or to a monitoring station when the vehicle is stolen. Tracking devices are very effective in helping authorities recover stolen vehicles. Some systems employ “telematics,” which combine GPS and wireless technologies to allow remote monitoring of a vehicle. If the vehicle is moved, the system will alert the owner and the vehicle can be tracked via computer.

Considering a used vehicle purchase? Check out VINCheck, a free vehicle history service for consumers. Since 2005, NICB has offered this limited service made possible by its participating member companies. Check it out at: www.nicb.org/vincheck.

*This report reflects stolen vehicle data contained in NCIC and present in the “NCIC mirror image” when accessed by NICB on March 5, 2016. NCIC records may contain errors based on inaccurate entries submitted by reporting agencies. Full size pickups include half ton and larger capacity models for all makes. Total thefts is the aggregate for each make/model with model year indicating the most stolen model year of all model years for each listing.

HotWheelsInfographic2015-Final-72216-WIDE

Car Full of Concrete – Insurance Scam Fail

In this edition of Fraud Files we take a look at how one Houston resident allegedly tried to flood a vehicle to collect on the insurance money. Police in Houston say that the owner of a 2014 Hyundai Santa Fe deliberately tried to get rid of the SUV during the April flooding in the area.

He allegedly put a piece of concrete on the gas pedal and tied the steering wheel using the driver’s side seat belt, then he drove it into the rising flood waters. NICB assisted in the investigation.

 

NICB News: Summer 2016

In this edition of NICB News, we look at what can learned from crash tests in the fight against insurance fraud. We also go to San Antonio to report on efforts to avoid contractor fraud following record hail damage. And we provide the latest list of the nation’s Hot Spots for vehicle thefts and take a look at new products aimed at preventing thefts.

Tailgate Thefts Decrease 6% in 2015

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports today that insured tailgate thefts declined 6 percent in 2015 reversing a consecutive five-year escalating theft trend. In 2014, 1,895 claims for tailgate theft were identified in ISO ClaimSearch®, an insurance industry claims database. That number decreased to 1,787 in 2015 for a drop of 6 percent—the first decline in claims since NICB began reviewing them in 2010.

This table shows the annual tailgate theft claim numbers from 2010:

Year          Claims        
 2010  430
 2011  472
 2012  831
 2013  1,090
 2014  1,895
 2015  1,787

This report is based on insurance claims; therefore, the actual number of tailgate theft incidents may be considerably higher since many thefts do not generate an insurance claim.

The top five states for tailgate thefts—2014 and 2015 combined—were: Texas (1,421), California (875), Florida (252), Arizona (204), and Pennsylvania (68). The top five cities for tailgate thefts during these years were: Houston (300), Dallas (276), San Antonio (141), Phoenix (68), and Fresno, Calif. (51).

See the complete report here.

NX_pickup truck_rear_isoReplacing a tailgate is expensive. A new one from the manufacturer of a popular 2015 pickup truck is about $1,300 with even higher costs for some variants. That helps explain why there is a thriving underground market for vehicle parts, a market fed with parts removed from stolen vehicles.

The underground market is driven by demand for items that can be acquired at a fraction of their legitimate cost. Tailgates are no exception. While many of these stolen tailgates end up on similar vehicles, others are simply sold for scrap, which contributes to the nationwide problem of metal theft.

Tailgate thefts can occur anywhere; several episodes of multiple thefts have occurred in single locations, such as auto dealers’ lots and shopping malls. Since a tailgate theft takes just seconds to accomplish, consumers might consider using an after-market security device, such as a hinge lock to thwart criminals.

NICB Urges Illinois Governor to Sign Measure Aimed at Towing Fraud

vintage-tow-wrecker-pick-up-truck_G1Q8XPUO_LThe National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) urges Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to sign into law Senate Bill 2261 to help protect consumers from the rampant towing fraud that has long plagued the state.

The bill, which has passed both the House and Senate, was supported by NICB, the Illinois Insurance Association and others.

If signed by the Governor, it would create a Statewide Relocation Towing Licensure Commission — a task force that will work over the next year to fully examine the towing laws in the state and report back to the legislature. The commission would have representation from the auto insurance industry in addition to state lawmakers, the towing industry and law enforcement.

In addition SB 2261:

  • Makes it a class 4 felony for a tower to illegally solicit business at an accident scene; and
  • Allows a vehicle owner or the owner’s insurer to file suit against a tower that violates the accident scene solicitation section, including recovery of all attorney fees and court costs.

“This is a major step forward as we attempt to put limitations on the rogue tow operators that have plagued many areas of the state, especially the Chicago area,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Motorists should not be subject to predatory towing practices that result in outrageous charges and tactics, such as holding cars hostage in salvage yards until the owner or their insurance company pay what amounts to a ransom to get the vehicle returned.”

Anyone with information concerning insurance fraud or vehicle theft can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or submitting a form on our website. Or, download the NICB Fraud Tips app on your iPhone or Android device.