Halloween Is Fright Night for Car Thieves

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Halloween thefts for four of the past five years were higher than the daily average.

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.

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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.

 

 

These Boots Weren’t Made For Stealing….

In this edition of Fraud Files we take a look at the theft of over 3,500 boots in an alleged cargo theft in Texas. An insurance claim was paid for over $400,000 for the loss, but in August authorities went undercover and arrested two suspects for trying to sell the stolen items.

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.

Hail Bombs, Flooding and Stolen Vehicles Highlight NICB’s Fall Newscast

In this edition of NICB News we focus on the devastating floods in Louisiana, a major hailstorm in Colorado and check in at this year’s IASIU conference in Las Vegas.

To view more episodes of NICB News click here.

Fraud Files: Datsun Recovered After 29 Years

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.

Catalytic Converter Thefts Still Smokin’

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.

Catalytic Converter Thefts

Insured Thefts of Catalytic Converters Are Up 23% Since 2008

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).

The full report is available here and the complete dataset is here.

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.

Fraud Files: Ellicott City Flooding

In this edition of Fraud Files we focus on the flood that devastated downtown Ellicott City, Maryland. The sudden rainfall and flooding killed two people and destroyed or damaged at least 25 buildings.  The 6 inches of rain between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. was the equivalent of a month of normal rainfall.

Multiple Arrests in Houston Tow Truck Scam

Houston police have arrested four people accused of a long-running scam that cheated motorists whose cars were towed under the Safe Clear program out of exorbitant tow lot storage fees and vehicle repair charges.

USAAutoThe allegations of organized criminal activity were lodged against individuals associated with USA Auto Collision, a Houston towing company that holds a city Safe Clear contract.

According to police, USA Auto Collision tricked motorists into signing documents – sometimes at the tow scene – authorizing its body shop to perform repairs, and then billed insurance companies for overpriced and sometimes unnecessary work.

Over 45,000 Motorcycles Stolen in 2015

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) today released a report on motorcycle thefts in the United States for 2015.  A total of 45,555 motorcycles were reported stolen in 2015 compared with 42,856 reported stolen in 2014-an increase of six percent.

Motorcycle-RideMotorcycle thefts have been on a consecutive, nine-year decline going from 66,774 thefts in 2006 to 42,856 in 2014 for a drop of 36 percent. When we include 2015’s number, the decline is still a healthy 32 percent for the period.

The top 10 states with the most reported motorcycles thefts in 2015 were California (7,221), Florida (4,758), Texas (3,403), South Carolina (2,160), New York (1,902), North Carolina (1,866), Nevada (1,408), Georgia (1,393) Indiana (1,333), and Virginia (1,253).

The top 10 cities for motorcycle thefts in 2015 were New York (1,340), Las Vegas (1,042), San Francisco (729), San Diego (717), Miami (713), Houston (517), Los Angeles (486) San Antonio (431), Indianapolis (375), and Albuquerque, (373).

The top 10 most stolen motorcycles in 2015 by manufacturer were American Honda Motor Co., Inc. (8,674 thefts), Yamaha Motor Corporation (7,214), American Suzuki Motor Corporation (6,065), Kawasaki Motors Corp., U.S.A. (4,920), Harley Davidson, Inc. (4,416), Taotao Group Co. Ltd (2,757), KTM Sportmotorcycle AG (630), Astronautical Bashan (620), Jonway Group Co., Ltd. (520) and Kymco U.S.A., Inc. (512).

The most motorcycle thefts occurred in August (5,269) and the fewest in February (2,093) which continues to reflect a weather-influenced pattern that is consistent with previous years.

The complete report is available here or by pasting https://www.nicb.org/File%20Library/Public%20Affairs/2015-Motorcycle-Theft-ForeCAST.PDF  into your browser.

 

Oklahoma Efforts Limited Fraud Following 2013 Moore Tornado

Unprecedented planning by state and local authorities, law enforcement and the insurance industry established what is being called a national model for protecting the public from fly-by-night contractors in the aftermath of a natural disaster.

According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), preparation in advance of the F-5 tornado that devastated the city of Moore and surrounding areas in May 2013 resulted in a well-coordinated effort to ensure that roofers and other contractors who swarmed into the area in the hours and days after the storm were properly licensed, insured and authorized to work in the area.

Local police assisted the Oklahoma Insurance Department Fraud Unit in patrolling the area and keeping suspected fraudulent out-of-state contractors from doing work unless all protocols were followed.

For an update from Oklahoma, watch this video.

Oklahoma City was the site of the recent 2016 National Tornado Summit where Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak told NICB, “It’s much easier to fight fraud on the front end rather than on the back end.” Doak and others said the insurance industry did a highly commendable job of responding to the catastrophe and paying claims as quickly as possible. However, some homeowners who signed contracts or turned over money to contractors before the work was done have found themselves out of luck after the insurance claim money was taken by the contractor. He said insurers have begun issuing bank debit cards to policyholders in an effort to provide funds as soon as possible, while at the same time allowing the victims to avoid turning over their claims check to a possible scam artist.

Thanks to the planning efforts, the number of suspected fraud cases has been far less than expected in the aftermath of such a devastating storm. But now, nearly three years later, the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office is seeing a disturbing trend.

“At this point and time, it is local contractors,” said Julie Bays, Chief of the Consumer Protection Unit. “Contractors who have set up shop here or out of state contractors who have established a local office, have told homeowners who have already paid out funds that the work is going to get done, but it never gets done.”

Bays says many homeowners are now finding that they have liens filed on their property by subcontractors who may have purchased supplies or done some repair work, and were never paid by the general contractors. One such case led to the extradition of a contractor who had fled to Kentucky. He was brought back to Oklahoma to face charges of embezzling $170,000 from storm victims.

The NICB is also working with its member companies and law enforcement on cases of alleged overbilling and charging insurers for work that was never done. “It’s a very competitive business, so some contractors will cut corners or submit false claims in order to get a customer’s business and their insurance money,” said NICB Special Agent Mark Wenthold.  “In a time when the insurers are doing their best to help the victims, they see the insurance industry as a soft target.”

As the spring tornado season arrives, NICB offers these tips before hiring a contractor:

  • Get more than one estimate.
  • Never let a contractor pressure you to hire them.
  • Never let a contractor interpret the insurance policy language for you.
  • Never let a contractor discourage you from contacting your insurance company.
  • Get everything in writing, including cost, work to be done, time schedules, guarantees, payment schedules and other expectations.
  • Demand references and check them out.
  • Ask for and record the salesperson’s driver’s license and vehicle license plate numbers.
  • Make sure to review and understand all documents sent to your insurance carrier.
  • Never sign a contract with blanks to avoid unacceptable terms being added later.
  • Never pay a contractor in full or sign a certificate of completion until the work is finished and you have verified that it meets code requirements where you live.
    f-5-tornado-moore-oklahoma-in-2013-3-HR

    The F-5 tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma in 2013 resulted in an onslaught of potentially unscrupulous contractors into the area. Local and state authorities were praised for keeping them out of the area and limiting the amount of insurance fraud committed against victims.

    moore-tornado-rebuilding-and-repairs-continue-4-HR

    Nearly three years after the Moore tornado, rebuilding and repairs continue. Some contractors are being investigated by authorities for failing to complete the work or committing insurance fraud.