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.

100,000+ Insured Vehicles Soaked in Louisiana

The August downpours that dumped more than 30 inches of rain in two days on parts of Louisiana have left as many as 100,000 cars and trucks damaged – and that’s only counting insured vehicles.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), says claims reporting and vehicle recovery efforts that were initially slowed by the large scale flooding are now in full swing and, according to the state’s Division of Motor Vehicles, the numbers are much higher than originally expected.

Based on the extensive vehicle losses following Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Louisiana enacted strong measures to help protect unsuspecting consumers from buying a flood-damaged vehicle. Once an insured vehicle has been determined by the insurer to have been flood damaged it is towed to one of the auction facilities and processed with a new title that indicates it has been water damaged. In Louisiana, during an emergency like the recent flooding, the severity of flood water damage may require a Certificate of Destruction. In that case, the vehicle has to be crushed, or sold to a company that will dismantle it for parts and destroy what remains. The vehicle identification number (VIN) is entered into the state’s records, NICB’s VINCheckSM, and the National Motor Vehicle Title Identification System (NMVTIS) so that the consumers can check a vehicle history before purchasing a used car or truck.

Flooded vehicles that did not have insurance coverage are a major concern as they are frequently cleaned up to hide the damage and then sold to unsuspecting consumers with no indication of a problem. The number of uninsured vehicles that were flood damaged may be even more than the number of insured vehicles since many owners choose to drop their policy’s comprehensive coverage as the vehicle ages.

“It’s buyer beware,” said Commissioner of Motor Vehicles Karen St. Germaine, who warns those in the market for a used car both in state and across the country to do their homework before putting any money on the line.

Tips

  • Look for water stains, mildew, sand or silt under the carpet, floor mats, and dashboard, and in the wheel well where the spare is stored. Look for fogging inside the headlights and taillights.
  • Do a smell test. A heavy aroma of cleaners and disinfectants is a sign that someone’s trying to mask a mold or odor problem.
  • Get a vehicle history report. Check a trusted database service. You can check NICB’s free VINCheck database and the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicle’s site. There are also reliable services that charge a small fee for history reports.
  • Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car’s mechanical and electrical components, and systems that contain fluids, for water contamination.

For more tips click here.

NICB and state officials, including the Louisiana State Police, work closely to pursue possible insurance fraud and vehicle theft. If you suspect fraud, call the NICB Hotline at 800-TEL-NICB (800-835-6422).

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.

Ferrari Found 29 Years After Being Stolen

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) was given exclusive access to a 1981 Ferrari GTSI recovered at the Port of Los Angeles and Long Beach earlier this month.

To see the video report, click here.

The car, one of 1,743 of that model made in 1981, was stolen in 1987 from Newport Beach, Calif., while on consignment at a dealership. The vehicle identification number (VIN) was later switched to the VIN of a 1982 Ferrari that had already been exported to Norway in 2005. When the vehicle arrived at the port, it was headed from Texas to Poland.

Working with Customs and Border Protection, the California Highway Patrol and Ferrari representatives, NICB was able to determine the true identity of the car and to recover the original theft report filed with Newport Beach Police in 1987. NICB records showed only 12 stolen red Ferraris still unrecovered at this time.

 

How to Avoid Post-Disaster Scams

As Texas and parts of the South-Central U.S. recover from widespread flooding and hail damage, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) reminds consumers to beware of buying flood-damaged vehicles and falling victim to unscrupulous home repair contractors.

The worst losses occurred in Texas where hail caused an estimated $600 million worth of insurance claims for damage to homes and autos.

Car Sales Fraud

As with all major natural disasters, NICB assists law enforcement agencies, insurance and car rental companies with identifying and cataloging water-damaged vehicles to keep them from being resold to unsuspecting consumers.

Already, authorities estimate that thousands of vehicles may have been flooded.

“NICB agents see it time after time. Natural disasters bring out dishonest salvage dealers who don’t tell you that the vehicles they’re selling are heavily water-damaged,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle.

“Consumers need to know that these vehicles may appear advertised for sale without any indication that they were affected by the flooding. As always, buyers should be careful when considering a used vehicle purchase in the weeks and months following a disaster like this.”

To help avoid buying a vehicle that has been declared salvage (including flood-damaged vehicles), NICB recommends that buyers take advantage of its free online service called VINCheckSM. VINCheck contains vehicle data from insurance companies representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market and lets buyers see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered.

Home Repair Fraud

In the weeks ahead, homeowners in disaster areas should be alert to the potential for fraud by unscrupulous contractors and home repair businesses.

Roofer“Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments,” said Wehrle. “As any recovery gets underway, fraudsters often converge on affected areas to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs. The last thing victims of disaster need is to be victimized again.”

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.

“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.

Unlike other states, Texas does not require a license for a roofing contractor nor is one required for solicitation. Local jurisdictions, however, may impose certain requirements before contractors can solicit work within their boundaries. One example is the City of Garland that requires anyone soliciting for the purpose of selling or offering to sell goods or services, must first retain a solicitation permit through the Garland Police Department.

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.

Police in Utah Find Success Using License Plate Readers

In this edition of Fraud Files we dive into the effectiveness of the License Plate Reader (LPR) program in the state of Utah. This statewide vehicle theft program has resulted in hundreds of arrests and recoveries of almost 1,400 stolen member company vehicles.

To view more editions of Fraud Files click here.

Texas Storm Victims Warned About Post-Disaster Scams

DES PLAINES, Ill., Jan. 7, 2016 –  As Texas recovers from recent storms, the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is working with law enforcement agencies, the Texas Department of Insurance and insurance companies to warn victims about post-disaster rebuilding scams.

TexasTornado1

Tornado damage in Rowlett, TX

After a disaster, contractors will often go door-to-door in neighborhoods that have sustained damage to offer clean up and/or construction and repair services.  Most of these people are reputable, but many are not.  The dishonest ones may execute schemes to defraud innocent victims.  One common scheme is to pocket the payment and 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 pocket more profit.

Almost all of these scams are unsolicited-they begin with a visit from a contractor who seeks to help victims rebuild.  That is why we say, “If you didn’t request it, reject it.”  If you think you might have damage from a storm, call your insurance company first.  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.

TexasTornadoRooferUnlike other states, Texas does not require a license for a roofing contractor nor is one required for solicitation. Local jurisdictions, however, may impose certain requirements before contractors can solicit work within their boundaries. One example is the City of Garland that requires anyone soliciting for the purpose of selling or offering to sell goods or services, must first retain a solicitation permit through the Garland Police Department.

NICB was on site in the disaster area this week as law enforcement and Department of Insurance officials were on the lookout for potential fraud.

“Fraud is an unfortunate reality in post-disaster environments,” said NICB President and CEO Wehrle. “As the recovery in Texas gets underway, fraudsters are already converging on the affected areas in order to scam disaster victims out of their money while promising to do repairs. The last thing victims of disaster need is to be victimized again.”

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

Another potential scam arising from the storms are flood vehicle resales. Buying a flood vehicle is not illegal, but misrepresenting a flood-damaged vehicle as one that is not could be a crime exposing the seller to potential criminal charges. More importantly, unknowingly buying a flood-damaged vehicle may put you and your family in physical and financial danger. A vehicle’s electronic systems are often destroyed from prolonged exposure to water rendering many of its safety features inoperable.

In these situations, efforts to recover your money from the seller are seldom successful since these scam artists rarely use legitimate identifying and contact information. In many cases, buyers are left with a useless vehicle and a loan that they still must repay.

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.

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.

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.

Northwest Warns of Flooded Vehicle Scams

NICB Senior Special Agent Scott Wagner is interviewed by KING5 about flooded vehicles in the northwest region. The Washington Department of Licensing is warning consumers about a flood vehicles damaged in the Texas and South Carolina floods that could get be repaired and then sold across the state.

NICB News: Fall 2015 – The Aftermath of the California Wildfires

In this edition of NICB News we feature the devastation of the wildfires in northern California, a look back at the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, the latest Hot Wheels report and more.

To view previous episodes of NICB News click here.