NICB West Region Task Force Activity for 2018

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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 10 separate task forces reveal in 2018, 5,167 stolen vehicles were recovered. The value of those recovered vehicles adds up to $48,442,615.00.

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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Don’t let Black Friday deals turn to steals

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After Thanksgiving meals and celebrations have come to an end, many American’s will head out to shop, as retailers offer deals for Black Friday. As shoppers hop from store to store, loading cars and trucks with merchandise, vehicles can become prime targets.

While Thanksgiving ranks as the second lowest holiday for vehicle theft (according to data from 2017), the story changes when we look to the next day, Black Friday.  Comparing the numbers, in 2017, there were 1,777 auto thefts reported on Thanksgiving. On Black Friday, that number jumped to 2,161. Here is a look at Black Friday data from the last four years:

2014  –  1,838 thefts

2015  –  2,244 thefts

2016  –  2,262 thefts

2017  –  2,161 thefts

NICB reminds drivers this holiday season to make sure your vehicle is locked when unattended. Roll up the windows completely. Don’t leave spare keys or FOBS inside. Take a moment and be sure to hide your valuables from view. Even an empty backpack looks appealing to a thief from the outside.

If stopping at several locations to shop, remember to first store your packages in your trunk before leaving one destination for the next. Thieves are known to watch shoppers who place items in their trunks and then head for the stores—that invites trouble.

Here’s how the 11 official holidays stacked up in 2017. See the complete holiday theft report.

  1. New Year’s Day (2,469)
  2. President’s Day (2,312)
  3. Halloween (2,297)
  4. Memorial Day (2,290)
  5. Labor Day (2,180)
  6. Valentine’s Day (2,169)
  7. Independence Day (2,124)
  8. New Year’s Eve (1,962)
  9. Christmas Eve (2,054)
  10. Thanksgiving (1,777)
  11. Christmas Day (1,664)

“Cars for Cops” Project – Houston Police Department

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The Houston Police Department was not spared from the damage and flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey. A significant number of Houston PD vehicles were damaged by the storm, nearly 500 in total, with about 100 considered a total loss.

In an effort to assist the police department with their vehicle loss, the “Cars for Cops” program was created. Some of the damaged vehicles that need to be replaced include undercover and bait cars. The NICB, working with member company MetLife, recently arranged donations to the department.

Roofing fraud requires vigilance

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Roofs are among the most expensive components of a house. It is no wonder then that while most roofing contractors are honest and reputable, fraudsters will commonly use roof repair and replacement as a means to swindle innocent homeowners. Worse, in the aftermath of major storms or catastrophe, unscrupulous contractors use the opportunity to prey upon already vulnerable consumers. Common roofing cons include:

False promises: Scammers will say anything to get homeowners to sign on the dotted line, including guaranteeing an insurance claim prior to approval from the insurance company.

Insisting payment upfront: Some dishonest contractors will insist upon full payment in advance and never complete, or even start, the job.

Lie about, exaggerate or create damage: In hopes of a larger payday, shady contractors will state damage exists where none does, exaggerate the scope of damage and necessary repair, or even purposely damage roofs to make it appear that it sustained damage from a weather event.

Sudden costs: Another scheme by unethical roofers is claiming, once the job has started, unforeseen damage or increases in material cost and demanding additional money. As a caveat, roof decking cannot be seen prior to tearing off the shingles and may legitimately need replacement, but the replacement costs should be detailed in the contract.

Alan Haskins, Vice President, Government Affairs for the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) says that while the best defense to roofing scams is an educated homeowner, state governments play an important consumer protection role. Some tools states can employ are:

Licensing: Not all states license roofing contractors. Licensing is good way to help ensure roofing contractors meet minimal professional education standards and hold roofers accountable.

Right to cancel: Some states allow consumers the right to cancel a roofing contract within 72 hours after receiving notice from their insurer that the insurance claim was denied.

Consumer disclosure requirements: States can help protect consumers by requiring contracts contain specific disclosures such as an itemized estimate of repair costs and a statement that claimed losses are not guaranteed to be covered by an insurance policy. Illinois requires contractors to provide their customer a brochure highlighting consumer rights.

Rebate prohibitions: Some roofers will attempt to lure homeowners into agreeing to unnecessary or inflated claims by offering to rebate their deductible.

Consumer education: States, in the aftermath of a catastrophe, or on an ongoing basis, can be instrumental in educating residents on how to avoid contractor fraud.

State elected officials or staff interested in strengthening their consumer protections related to roof repair and replacement should contact NICB’s government affairs department at GovernmentAffairs@nicb.org or 800-447-6282.

For more information on how to better protect yourself as a consumer when hiring a contractor, NICB offers this time-tested advice.