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.
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.
Last year, a vehicle was reported stolen once every 45 seconds in the United States. And one out of every eight thefts was a freebie for the thief. There was a theft every six and one-half minutes where the driver left the keys or FOB inside.
It’s a growing problem according to the latest report from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The 57,096 thefts in 2015 amounted to a 22 percent increase over the previous year. Over the past three years, this kind of theft grew by 31 percent.
Since many people do not admit to leaving their car unlocked with the keys or FOB inside, the actual numbers of thefts with the keys left in vehicles may be considerably higher than the report indicates.
“Anti-theft technology has had a tremendous impact on reducing thefts over the past 25 years, but if you don’t lock it up, it’s not going to help,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “Complacency can lead to a huge financial loss and inconvenience for the vehicle owner. Leaving a vehicle unlocked or with the key or FOB inside gives a thief the opportunity to take not only the car, but also any possessions inside. It can also provide access to your personal information if the registration is left in the glove compartment.
“We have reports from our law enforcement partners that car thieves have stolen the car, driven it to the residence and burglarized the home before the owner even knew the vehicle was missing.”
NICB advises drivers to:
- Lock the vehicle, set the alarm and take all keys or FOBS.
- Do not leave the garage door opener in the vehicle.
- Take a picture of your registration on your cell phone and do not leave the registration or other papers with personal information in the vehicle.
- Never leave a car unlocked and running to warm it up or while stopping for a quick cup of coffee. It only takes a moment for the opportunistic thief to jump inside and drive off.
For the years 2013 through 2015, a total of 147,434 were reported stolen with the keys left in the vehicle. In 2013, there were 43,643 thefts; 46,695 thefts in 2014 and 57,096 in 2015. From 2013 to 2015, the increase was 31 percent.
The top five states that posted the most vehicle thefts with keys during this reporting period were California (22,580), Texas (11,003), Florida (9,952), Ohio (8,623) and Nevada (8,073). The top five core-based statistical areas (CBSA) were Las Vegas-Henderson-Paradise, NV (7,815), Detroit-Warren-Dearborn, MI (4,380), Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA (4,118), Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, FL, (3,847) and Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (3,365).
One state—Hawaii—had a perfect record. Not a single report of a vehicle theft with keys.
Looking at day-of-week data, Saturday saw the most thefts with (22,081) followed by Monday (21,851) and Friday (21,652).
As Halloween approaches, there may be more than ghouls, gremlins and witches canvassing the landscape. How many car thieves will also be prowling the nation’s streets this Halloween disguised as trick-or-treaters as they case neighborhoods for their next target?
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) has been analyzing and reporting on vehicle theft activity for over 100 years. While we’ve published hundreds of reports about vehicle theft over the years, this is the first time we have approached the topic to see what effect, if any, Halloween has on vehicle theft.
NICB examined 2011-2015 vehicle theft data contained in the National Crime Information Center’s (NCIC) Stolen Vehicle File to produce daily reported theft totals and then pulled the numbers for October 31—Halloween. The result is a straightforward presentation of theft statistics linked to Halloween, the annual celebration with roots in the Celtic festival of Samhain.
The average daily theft totals for each of the past five years was determined and then compared with the thefts reported on Halloween. Halloween thefts for four of the five years were higher than the daily average. One year, 2012, had fewer thefts.
So, the question remains. Is there a link between Halloween and vehicle theft? Is the behavior of vehicle thieves affected by this annual celebration? Maybe. But during the last five years the data shows more theft activity on October 31—and that’s no trick, or treat.
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.
For 29 years the car was stashed in a storage facility gathering dust. That was until the storage fees stopped coming in and NICB was asked to investigate. What we discovered was a tale of a stolen vehicle, paid insurance claims and alleged murder.
To view more episodes of Fraud Files click here.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reports that from 2008 through 2015, there were 25,394 catalytic converter thefts across the nation. In 2008, there were 3,246 thefts of catalytic converters. That number rose to 3,986 at the end of 2015—an increase of 23 percent—according to a review of insurance claims data. These numbers reflect just insured thefts, so the actual number of all catalytic converter thefts is likely to be much higher.
For example, an online search of “catalytic converter thefts” produced news stories describing this activity occurring from Michigan to North Carolina and from California to New York—just this summer alone.
California is the state where the overwhelming majority of catalytic converter thefts occurred during this time frame—8,072. It was followed by Texas (1,705), Illinois (1,605), Ohio (1,439) and Georgia (1,215).
The top five cities where insured thefts were reported were: Chicago (980), Sacramento (850), Los Angeles (550), Atlanta (407) and Indianapolis (353).
Why catalytic converter thefts?
Stolen metals have been converted into cash by scrap metal operators who may have been acting within the law, but who may also have unwittingly enabled the proliferation of these kinds of thefts by providing a cash conversion point for purloined materials. As these kinds of thefts intensified–often disabling roadway lighting and airport runway lighting—they captured the attention of lawmakers around the country who, eventually, passed tough, new recycling laws to tighten regulations over metal recyclers.
But unlike base metals and other materials, catalytic converters are unique in that they each contain a small amount of one of three precious metals: platinum, palladium, or rhodium. The presence of those metals is what drives catalytic converter thefts as they can easily bring anywhere from $20 – $240 in recycling value depending on the amount and type of precious metal they contain.
An aggressive thief can easily collect 10-15 or more converters in a single day. They often target sport utility vehicles (SUVs) because their ground clearance is sufficient for the thief to gain access to the converter without having to deploy a jack. And that saves time.
While the replacement of a catalytic converter alone may be relatively inexpensive, many times vehicles are significantly damaged in the theft process making repairs much more costly. NICB recommends that consumers–particularly owners of SUVs—consider taking some preventive measures to deter the theft of their catalytic converters. Etching the catalytic converter with the vehicle identification number (VIN) is an effective deterrent and there are after-market security devices available as well.