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Un-civil civil penalties can thwart fraudsters

States need civil actions when criminal system slow to respond Continue reading

nullCrafting a model fraud law was one of the Coalition’s first agenda items when we were founded in 1993. It took us two years to complete, and still is the most complete anti-fraud model law on the streets.

The larger the fraud the stronger the penalty, our model says. Arson and other potentially life-threatening schemes merit the most-serious felony sentences. We also created a unique law exposing leaders of crash rings and organized fraud schemes to large civil fines that can bankrupt their operations.

Our “unlawful insurance act” was ahead of its time — few policymakers grasped the civil penalty’s purpose when we wrote that model in 1994. Yet with many lawmakers reluctant to strengthen criminal penalties, maybe it’s time to go after more ringleaders in civil court.

New Mexico lawmakers resist allowing judges to aggregate the full amount of the scam when sentencing fraudsters. It would let judges mete out stiffer jail terms and fines.

New York is legendary for stonewalling much-needed laws clamping down on recruiters for crash rings, and other scammers. Key committee staff typically see little need for more felonies. And supporters of tougher laws are unwilling to compromise with light misdemeanors that would discourage over-worked prosecutors from taking cases.

Some states also want to decriminalize some offenses that, the thinking goes, might further clog already-crowded prisons with non-violent offenders. It’s also harder to push for stricter criminal insurance penalties when there’s a move afoot to decriminalize other offenses.

Maybe we should seek more civil actions when the winds of change for tougher criminal penalties blow in our faces. Enacting large civil penalties get inside the wallets of fraudsters and remove their profit motive.

The Coalition helped Maryland and Minnesota enact a civil penalty. Both states can quickly go after fraudsters on their own, without waiting for the often slow-moving criminal system to wind its course. Maryland has seen success, and Minnesota wants to ramp up it effort.

To paraphrase Robert Frost — two roads diverge. One takes us on the difficult road for stronger criminal penalties. The other is less traveled. We seek civil actions when the criminal system isn’t set up to fully respond.

Fraud fighters need to have this discussion. Is it time to enact more civil penalties against fraudsters?

Let’s begin the talk.

About the author: Howard Goldblatt is director of government affairs for the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud.

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