Beware Harvey Flood-Damaged Vehicles

Flooded cars near the Addicks Reservoir in Houston, TX. (David J. Phillip, File/Associated Press)

The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is warning the nation’s consumers that vehicles flooded by Hurricane Harvey may soon be appearing for sale around the nation.

After a disaster, NICB works with its member companies, law enforcement and auto auction companies to identify the vehicles that have had an insurance claim filed and to process them for sale. All of the cars, deemed to be a total loss, will be retitled with the Department of Motor Vehicles and the new title will indicate the fact that the vehicle has been flood damaged. Most of the vehicles are sold to parts’ companies who will dismantle them and re-sell usable parts that were not damaged by the flooding.

The Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) is also entered into the NICB’s VINCheck® and the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (NMVTIS) database.

NICB’s VINCheck allows car buyers to see whether a vehicle has ever been declared as “salvage” or a total loss by an NICB member that participates in the program. Insurers representing about 88 percent of the personal auto insurance market provide their salvage data to the program. It also alerts users if a vehicle has been stolen and is still unrecovered. VINCheck is a free public service available at: www.nicb.org/vincheck.

Keeping damaged cars out of the hands of unsuspecting buyers is a major focus of the industry. Unfortunately, some of the flooded vehicles may be purchased at bargain prices, cleaned up, and then taken out of state where the VIN is switched and the car is retitled with no indication it has been damaged.

NICB warns that buyers be particularly careful in the coming weeks and months as thousands of Harvey-damaged vehicles may reappear for sale in their areas. Vehicles that were not insured may be cleaned up and put up for sale by the owner or an unscrupulous dealer with no disclosure of the flood damage.

Buyers should have a vehicle checked by a reputable mechanic or repair facility before handing over any cash.

Consumer Resources

Fraud Files: Arizona Man Files Over 110 Fraudulent Claims in Two Years

In this edition of Fraud Files we focus on an Arizona man who was arrested and charged with allegedly filing over 110 fraudulent insurance claims over a two-year span. Marcel Deweaver was charged with allegations of fraud schemes, theft, insurance fraud and identity theft and is awaiting trial.

To view more episodes of Fraud Files click here.

Fraud Files: Colorado Contractor Arrested for Scamming the Elderly

A Denver, Colorado contractor has been charged with several counts of felony theft after allegedly scamming elderly homeowners through his roofing and restoration business.

Jonathan McMillan, 41, is the owner of Lifetime Roofing and Restoration. According to Jefferson County court documents, McMillan hired sales people to go door-to-door soliciting roofing business from homeowners with houses damaged primarily by hailstorms. Those employees were instructed by McMillan to have the homeowners sign contracts and collect as much insurance claim payments as quickly as possible.

To view more episodes of Fraud Files click here.

Fraud Files: Multi-Million Dollar Health Care Fraud

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.

Know Before You Tow!

As we’ve written in the past tow trucks scams are becoming a major issue across the country. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) is warning and educating consumers about unethical and illegal practices among some rogue towing and storage operators and repair shops around the nation.

In our latest episode of Fraud Files we take a look at how states are cracking down on illegal towing fees.

Here’s a list of the most recent legislative activity involving towing laws across the country:

California – Assembly Bill 1222, Signed Into Law – September 2015

* Prohibits a towing company from stopping at an accident scene unless summoned to the scene by the owner of the vehicle, owner/operator, or requested by law enforcement
* Establishing requirements to provide proof that a tow truck driver was summoned to the scene
* Require towing companies to provide a written estimate of all charges to the vehicle operator and a signature by the vehicle operator before proceeding with the tow and maintaining a cap on the amount of the tow
* Require towing companies to maintain a record of all towing documents for a period of 3 years and to make those records available for inspection by law enforcement
* Misdemeanor penalties

Illinois – Senate Bill 2261, Signed into Law – August 2016

* Penalties on towers who illegally solicit accident victims – Class 4 Felony
* Towers who violate the accident scene solicitation law can be sued by the vehicle owner and/or the owner’s insurer.
* Also created a statewide relocation towing commission tasked with examining the towing laws of the state and to make recommendations

Missouri – House Bill 1976 – Law Effective November 2016

* Prohibits a towing company from stopping at an accident scene unless summoned to the scene by the owner of the vehicle, owner/operator, or requested by law enforcement, unless it’s an emergency situation
* Allow vehicle owners access to storage yard and sets requirements for when storage yards to be open
* Requires towers to make available upon request a written estimate of all tow-related charges
* Requires a tow rotation list be maintained and utilized by the Missouri State Police, but local jurisdictions are not mandated to use that list
* Misdemeanor penalties for 1st offense, felony on 2nd

Ohio – House Bill 341, Signed into Law – January 2017

* Allows a civil action by insurers against a towing company operator to recover a vehicle. The vehicle is released within 2 days of the insurance company paying the “undisputed amount” of the bill from the towing company.

Pennsylvania

* NICB is working with a state lawmaker from the Pittsburgh area on legislation in 2017 to address towing abuses in Pennsylvania. The problem is most prominent in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Anyone with information concerning tow scams can report it anonymously by calling toll-free 1-800-TEL-NICB (1-800-835-6422), texting keyword “fraud” to TIP411 (847411) or 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.

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.

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.