Shame, guilt, ruined. That’s what happens to fraudsters once they’re busted. And it’s the deterrent message insurers in New York spread in their outreach campaign.
The blunt campaign theme: “Insurance Fraud Destroys … Families, Friendships and Careers.” It’s the brainchild of the New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud. Three TV spots, a radio spot and three billboards will showcase the personal ruin for average consumers whose automobile cons get exposed. It’s a May-June campaign.
Shame and guilt play big in deterrent radio and TV spots. You’ll lose friends, family and career once they find out you’re an insurance cheater, the spots will point out. Nice price to pay for trying to steal a few insurance dollars, right?
The guilt campaign will play out in New York City, Albany, Rochester and Buffalo. Web and social media ads will blanket the state.
The Fraud Squad also makes a grassroots curtain call after a successful tour of New York City last year. Pedestrians will see a van with anti-fraud messages at high-profile events such as Mets games and large community events that attract thousands of people. Albany and Rochester also will see the cruising Fraud Squad van. And people can win $100,000 cash by guessing the five-digit code on a digital safe.
Shame and guilt are universal human emotions. The insurers are astutely making sure New York consumers think twice before making the mistake of lodging dodgy claims. (See Four Questions feature below for more details).
Arson dogs and their nifty noses are being honored around the U.S. for sleuthing out insurance and other arsons. These dogs generate boatloads of goodwill and favorable news coverage of the fraud fight.
Scooter is the latest fire fido. Insurers named the yellow Labrador retriever the top fraud fighter in New York for 2016. Her award was presented posthumously by the New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud.
A rescue dog, Scooter and her handler Doug Lerner scouted hundreds of burn sites for the Rockland County sheriff and surrounding counties. Her evidence earned dozens of arson convictions, including for insurance fraud.
Scooter passed a rigorous training course. She and Lerner were inseparable for the next 10 years as Scooter sniffed out tiny traces of gasoline and other accelerants amid charred ruins of buildings.
She was trained as part of State Farm’s arson-dog training program. More than 350 arson-dog teams have been placed in 44 states, the District of Columbia and Canada. The K-9s (all Labs) and handlers train for up to five weeks in Maine and are then certified.
There’s even a national arson-dog monument in Washington, D.C. “Ashes to Answers,” reads the plaque. The bronze statue was sculpted by Colorado volunteer fire fighter Austin Weishel. The black Lab who modeled for the statue is K-9 agent Sadie, the 2011 Arson Dog of the Year.
A black Lab also has a statue in Connecticut. Mattie changed the world of arson detecting, one of the first such dogs. She worked about 400 cases and nabbed dozens of fire starters for the state police.
A landlord stood in the crowd, watching as his apartment building burned down in New Haven, Conn. was incinerated. Mattie was onsite. Her accelerant alert signal was to sit. She sniffed gasoline on the landlord and sat on the shocked guy’s shoes. His clothes were seized, and a gas can was found in his car. He was arrested for insurance fraud.
Mattie’s statue was unveiled at the Connecticut Fire Academy in Windsor Locks. Mattie died in 1994 after a 6-year career. “She outperformed the equipment that was used in the forensic lab,” her first trainer told reporters.
A home explodes ... hundreds of setup car crashes churn fake whiplash claims ... a helpless cerebral palsy patient starves to death.
All for false insurance claims. These extreme schemers are among the eight worst insurance criminals of 2016. They were elected to the Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame.
The Shamers reveal the year’s most brazen, bungling or vicious convicted insurance swindlers. Victims are traumatized, maimed, lose their savings and have their credit ruined. Some die. The Shamers put a human face on this crime. Fraud and its high price become very personal to all consumers. The deterrent goal is to marginalize insurance fraud as socially repugnant behavior that’s high-risk, low-reward. Three of the latest masters of disaster:
Exploding home. Two neighbors were incinerated and an Indianapolis subdivision nearly leveled when Bob Leonard helped accidentally blow up a house in a botched $300,000 home arson. “Oh well, they died,” Leonard said of the next-door couple. Sentence: life without parole.
Faulty no-fault con. Michael Danilovich masterminded a $279-million attempted looting of auto insurers with hundreds of staged car crashes in the New York City area. It was the largest no-fault auto scam in U.S. history. Crooked medical providers deluged insurers with fake whiplash claims. Sentence: 25 years.
Deer deception. Mob associate Ron Galati used deer parts and blood to gore up cars and claim the vehicles crashed into deer. Galati’s Philadelphia body shop made $5 million of inflated damage claims from phantom deer and other collisions. He even took a sledgehammer to cars, and plotted to have a witness shot. Sentence: up to 29 years.
Imagine a little girl’s doll pushing a plastic tree onto a roof — it’s just a tiny doll house, though with an outsized message for consumers in Virginia.
She wants a free new roof from her insurer. She shows her GI Joe-like doll buddy how to topple the little tree and fabricate a big claim for a new master bedroom.
The doll duo are stars of an animated video by the energetic anti-fraud program of the Virginia State Police. Two spots aired in a statewide online ad campaign that ran last fall. Too many people think insurance fraud is a “pretend crime.” So why not feature dolls doing “pretend” scams to make this crime real to average adult consumers in the Commonwealth?
The ads were targeted at Virginians via the Google video ad partner network. It spans more the two million websites, including YouTube. Collectively they have a huge consumer following, especially among fraud-prone Virginians.
The videos gained wide visibility that increased consumer awareness of fraud as a no-win dud. Consumers still can feast on the videos via the program’s YouTube channel.
Bright green infographics also stare back at consumers on the Facebook site of the Stamp Out Fraud effort. Each boldly speaks to a single anti-fraud idea. They’re designed in the program’s signature leafy green color for instant recognition. The images are mainly used as Facebook features, and also for presentations.
Make a bogus claim for home repairs or car damage? You’re a scammer, warns an infographic. It’s one of several on the Facebook page.
The unfortunate worker’s hand is part of a larger infographic series. Each graphic portrays a single fraud idea.
The State Police have created at least a dozen fraud images over the last 1½ years, and more are coming — a full library of fraud deterrence in the making.
Want to take on fraud zombies or dive into a whirlpool that’s sucking stolen insurance money into oblivion? Consumers got their photos taken with cool 3-D street art and share with friends on social media. Fraud’s also a drain on your wallet, goes a street image of a swirling whirlpool.
It was part of a recent outreach campaign by the New Jersey Office of Insurance Fraud Prosecutor. Billboards also sprouted across the state ... digital media conveyed messages.
3-D art sponsorships also appeared at select home games of the New York Giants and Jets, Rutgers and Princeton. Stadium signage flashed and announcements drummed up support for anti-fraud efforts during game breaks.
Want a chilled glass of lemonade from the neighborhood kid’s stand? It’ll just cost you just $1,300. Actually, that’s what the OIFP says fraud costs each New Jersey resident. So the state scam enforcers are driving home the point with clever video public service announcements that have appeared around the state.
Shaming and blaming fraudsters by posting Most Wanted fraudster lists can be a useful outreach tactic.
Reporters like to post lists. They’re catchy tools for packaging useful news about a topic.
The insurance department in Washington state has a Most Wanted list, with mug shots and descriptions of the suspected scams. The news media often post stories about the latest fraud suspects who’ve made the department’s list.
Erich Scott was involved in a collision with another vehicle. Geico denied his claim. The insurer had cancelled the Vancouver man’s policy for nonpayment several months prior. Scott gave Geico forged bank records showing he’d paid his auto premiums, the insurance department. Geico says it has no record of payment. Scott skipped out on his arraignment hearing and is on the run, prosecutors say.
“Anyone with information about Scott can contact local law enforcement or Kreidler’s investigators, 360-586-2566,” said a news story in the Columbian.
The insurance department warns on its Most Wanted site: “Do not attempt to apprehend any of these fugitives. If you have information that may lead to their arrest, please contact your local law enforcement agency or contact SIU.”
Suspected health scammers are being tracked by the federal Most Wanted list. Luis Emelio Deleon allegedly stole more than $800,000 of insurance money by billing for wound-care products that no one ordered and doctors never prescribed.
The Utah insurance department has its own Most Wanted list. Suspects in New Jersey must worry about their state AG’s lineup of accused criminal miscreants. People charged with all manner of crimes are listed with photos, including alleged insurance criminals. Kofi Boakye allegedly faked his death to steal life-insurance money.
As regulators in Maryland know, Most Wanted lists generate stories about the fugitives and insurance department’s anti-fraud efforts.
Maryland’s insurance regulators posted an updated list of 22 fraudsters the state has sanctioned.
The Baltimore Sun jumped on the news release. “Maryland’s top insurance regulator is trying out an old-fashioned approach to cracking down on insurance fraud: publicly shaming offenders,” the Sun wrote.
The fraudster list inspired the Sun to publish more kudos: Civil cases in Maryland increased 10-fold recently, from 4 in 2013 to 40 in 2015. Penalties and restitution paid spiked from $18,265 in 2013 to $143,875 last year.
Thousands of lower-income residents of San Antonio will have food on their tables thanks to local fraud fighters who filled bags for hours at a food bank.
The charity work helped people in need. Helping helped in another way: Anti-fraud messages went to the 1.4 million residents of San Antonio — the state’s second-largest city. The generous effort was sponsored by the Texas-South Chapter of the Texas Association of Special Investigation Units.
Investigators from San Antonio and Houston volunteered in the food bank’s warehouse. They wore t-shirts designed with empowering anti-fraud messages: “Know the scams ... fight back ... report it ... insurancefraud.org.”
Consumers received another boost of fraud awareness with a laudatory feature story on News 4 that evening, highlighting the chapter’s efforts. Telemundo also aired a positive news report in Spanish, helping reach the area’s Spanish-speaking residents.
They organized and bagged food, brought in food donations and gave monetary donations. The afternoon’s work helped translate into 20,644 meals to help feed nearly 3,500 families in a 16-county area.
Comp info hub informs. Honest businesses can’t compete with companies that cheat. Stern warning about payroll fraud from an online info hub by the United Brotherhood of Carpenters. It covers the latest info about employers that illicitly shave workers-comp premiums by lowballing payroll and staff size. There’s also a video. News, reports and analysis are included. @PayrollFraud connects to the group’s tell-all Twitter channel. Get breaking news by texting FRAUD to 91990.
Awash in opportunists. “Nearly one-half of auto insurance frauds appear to have been opportunistic crimes ...” writes exec director Tom Donahue in the new online annual report of the Pennsylvania Insurance Fraud Prevention Authority. “The crimes involve unwise decisions made by people who had no prior criminal history, with defendants 18 to 34 years of age comprising nearly half of all offenders. Reaching and deterring younger auto insurance users from engaging in fraud continues to be the IFPA’s public outreach priority.”
Infographic tells all. How about this for achievements: $21,760,423 of bogus claims collected last year ... 542 investigations launched ... 17 years going strong for the Stamp Out Fraud outreach campaign. Check out the nifty infographics in the annual report of the Virginia State Police. And learn — at a glance — how the agency is using sharp visuals to help show how it’s tracking down fraudsters.
“The negative financial effect that insurance fraud has on everyone comes as a surprise to many,” Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, head of the Virginia State Police, says in the annual report. The more money fraudsters bilk from insurers, the more people end up paying in increased premiums. Those who commit insurance fraud are ultimately taking money out of your pocket.”
TV exposes testing scams? Rue the media’s power to persuade. The feds are investigating after a CBS News expose allegedly shows cheaters duping Fort Hood, Tex. soldiers into unknowingly getting useless medical tests falsely charged to the U.S. military insurer.
Dozens of soldiers lined up each day in a parking lot to provide DNA, urine and insurance cards for $50 Walmart gift cards, the show said. A demo clinic, for example, used samples to bill 418 times for unneeded screening for dozens of drugs like PCP, cocaine and methadone.
CBS News says it found a heap of trash dumped into a shed at a clinic near Fort Hood. It allegedly contained soldiers’ SSNs, medical info, DNA specimens and more than 60 photocopies of military IDs.
Medical ID theft. Frank Abagnale stole money by pretending he was someone else. Leo DiCaprio even starred in the hit movie, "Catch Me If You Can," about his cheeky misadventures.
Abagnale served his jail time. He quickly assumed yet another identity — consultant and media celeb, advising law enforcement and consumers how to spot ID scams, including medical identity thievery. Abagnale also got caught again, this time on camera. Nor was it for stealing. It was for giving consumers advice on protecting their personal medical info.
He’s the attention-getter in a federal public service announcement on safeguarding medial info from insurance crooks.
“Imagine you’re unconscious in the emergency room and the medical records your treatment depends on are fraudulent. ...” Abagnale warns.
Timely news & views
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Breaking labor brokers. “Scammers continually shift tactics. They try to exploit gaps in the insurance system to maximize payouts and disguise their schemes,” insurer defense attorneys Robert A. Stern and James A. McKenney write in the newest article posted in JIFA, the Coalition’s flagship journal. “Nimble insurers have stepped up the counter-pressure with effective affirmative civil and criminal actions. It’s a hunt-and-be-hunted environment, one that insurers increasingly are well-adapted to mastering as they seek to turn the corner against these expensive schemes.”
Play by the comp rules. The stormy weather’s only beginning when a dishonest contractor knocks on your door. Cheap home repairs don’t come cheap. So stay alert, avoid storm chasers, and find an honest contractor, the Coalition’s latest podcast FraudFeed urges about conniving home contractors. “So disaster victims have the idea that everybody’s coming to help them but that isn’t true,” agrees Coalition member Phae Moore, head of the National Center for the Prevention of Home Improvement Fraud.
Infographic to care about. Insurance fraud — why care? Plenty of reasons, says a deterrent infographic by the Coalition. Fraud hikes premiums ... empties wallets ... maims patients. And want to know (deterrently) how you’re toast if you get caught? Criminal record for life ... job and salary are shot ... comfy jail cell.
Why Care tells the full fraud story. It’s edgy for younger people, yet right for older adults. Post on your own websites, publications, presentations and other outlets. Coalition member organizations can customize with their own name and URL. Just contact Kendra Smith at 202-393-7330.
Send your news. Got a new outreach effort, charity event, new ads or Fraud Awareness Week campaign? Send your news for OUTREACH! and Fraud News Weekly to Jim Quiggle.
New York is one of the nation’s hotbeds of fraud crime ... all kinds. Insurers have united behind the power of public outreach. The New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud conducts campaigns year-around, aiming to convince New Yorkers to rally against insurance crime. Jim Berrigan chairs NYAAIF, and chases fraudsters as SIU Director for Crum & Forster. We asked Jim for his take on how to build consumer buy-in.
What fraud scams and audiences are the focus of NYAAIF’s outreach campaigns?
Our efforts are aimed primarily at average New Yorkers, at several levels. We want to empower folks to spot and steer clear of fraud scams — preventing people from being victimized. We’re also educating people to report schemes to the state frauds bureau and their insurer. Many scams also are committed by average New Yorkers. Maybe inflating a claim for a supposedly stolen big-screen TV, or torching their car to get out from under expensive payments.
We need to reach these people and convince them that scamming isn’t worth the risk. They’re usually honest people who might try to bilk their insurer in a moment of weakness. Strong anti-fraud messages might get them thinking about the high risk and low reward, and maybe convince more people to avoid making this life-altering mistake. Secondarily, we want to send a strong deterrent message to professional scammers that we’re making everyone aware of what they are doing, and that concerned New Yorkers will report them.
Our outreach efforts get us talking to hundreds of people across the State, including reporters. One of the first questions reporters, officials and others ask when we explain the insurance fraud problem is … “Who are the victims, how are people damaged and how do I find them?” We tell them to look across the street, look at the person at the desk next to you. Look in the mirror or at the kids in the playground. Everyone is a victim.
How do you break through the clutter of consumer messages and convince New Yorkers to be concerned about insurance fraud?
That’s hard when people are bombarded by thousands of marketing and action messages every day. Plus, there is a general mistrust of marketing messages. So, we try to break through by speaking emotionally. This year’s campaign is educating New Yorkers about auto scams. It could easily be a boring message.
To add impact and emotional appeal, we begin each commercial with a short example of positive relationships — between mother and daughter, two neighbors, and an employer and employee. Then, we shift to the negative message of how these good relationships are destroyed when someone finds out you’re a criminal convicted of insurance fraud. Finally, we punctuate each commercial with the facts about auto fraud scams — and a call to action to download our interactive digital brochure. Possibly the most important thing we do is have a consistent, central message. Since the beginning of NYAAIF, our unifying theme has been ... “Fraud, The Crime You Pay For.” That says a lot in a few words.
What media strategies do you use, and how do they work together?
Mass media like TV and radio are still the workhorses for sending and repeating messages. We’ve used short but hard-hitting spots since the beginning, and adapt them to changing times. We’ve also become aggressive in social and digital media. We now have more than 6,000 Facebook fans, plus active Twitter and Instagram channels. Each year we also do email blitzes to tens of thousands of New Yorkers, reinforcing our campaign message.
We also post display ads on popular websites and mobile devices, and we use a technique called re-targeting. If someone visits our site or one of our digital display ads, they’ll be re-targeted by those ads on other sites they visit. In other words, our message follows them around as they browse the internet. This adds huge impact to our anti-fraud message.
This year, we’re adding what’s called SEM, or search-engine marketing. We’ll buy ad words that bring our message to the top of Google and other search-engine searches when the consumer looks for certain keywords. The great thing about digital media is that we can geo-target. We don’t have to talk to everyone in the world. We can pinpoint the New Yorkers we need to reach.
All our strategies work together to reach the largest number of New Yorkers as often as we can, for the budget we spend.
What’s next? What’s your wish list for new outreach tools to fight insurance fraud?
I’ve always said that you can only be so effective by “preaching from the media pulpit.” We also must take our message to the streets. New Yorkers should be able to reach out and touch our efforts in their local communities. We’re embarking on this path by launching the Fraud Squad. The Fraud Squad appears at popular events and venues across the State. People can see a custom-designed van and display booth that carry our yearly campaign graphics. Last year, we asked people to have their picture taken with a sign that featured the message ... #stopthescam. We then asked them to post this to our Instagram site to have a chance to win prizes. This allowed us to capture their names and get them involved in the message.
This year, we’re expanding across the state. Folks can win $100,000 if they can guess the five-digit code that will open a digital safe. This gets people talking and spreading the word about insurance fraud as an unwelcome crime that harms all New Yorkers.
We’re excited to launch this year’s campaign in May and extending through June. We really feel it’ll take our efforts to new levels of effectiveness in enlisting New Yorkers as active allies in combatting insurance crime.