In the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program, property crime includes the offenses of burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson. The object of the theft-type offenses is the taking of money or property, but there is no force or threat of force against the victims. The property crime category includes arson because the offense involves the destruction of property; however, arson victims may be subjected to force. This property crime category also includes: Destruction, Damage, or Vandalism of Property.
Crimes Against Property Definitions from NIBRS (National Incident-Based Reporting System)
Arson: To unlawfully and intentionally damage, or attempt to damage, any real or personal property by fire or incendiary device.
Bribery: The offering, giving, receiving, or soliciting of anything of value (i.e., a bribe, gratuity, or kickback) to sway the judgment or action of a person in a position of trust or influence.
Burglary/Breaking and Entering: The unlawful entry into a building or other structure with the intent to commit a felony or a theft.
Counterfeiting/Forgery: The altering, copying, or imitation of something, without authority or right, with the intent to deceive or defraud by passing the copy or thing altered or imitated as that which is original or genuine; or the selling, buying, or possession of an altered, copied, or imitated thing with the intent to deceive or defraud.
Destruction/Damage/Vandalism of Property: To willfully or maliciously destroy, damage, deface, or otherwise injure real or personal property without the consent of the owner or the person having custody or control of it.
Embezzlement: The unlawful misappropriation by an offender to his/her own use or purpose of money, property, or some other thing of value entrusted to his/her care, custody, or control.
Extortion/Blackmail: To unlawfully obtain money, property, or any other thing of value, either tangible or intangible, through the use or threat of force, misuse of authority, the threat of criminal prosecution, the threat of destruction of reputation or social standing, or through other coercive means.
Fraud Offenses: The intentional perversion of the truth for the purpose of inducing another person or other entity in reliance upon it to part with something of value or to surrender a legal right.
False Pretense/Swindle/Confidence Game: The intentional misrepresentation of existing fact or condition, or the use of some other deceptive scheme or device, to obtain money, goods, or other things of value.
Credit Card/Automatic Teller Machine Fraud: The unlawful use of a credit card, debit card or automatic teller machine for fraudulent purposes.
Impersonation: Falsely representing one’s identity or position, and acting in the character or position thus unlawfully assumed, to deceive others and thereby gain a profit or advantage, enjoy some right or privilege, or subject another person or entity to an expense, charge, or liability which would not have otherwise been incurred.
Welfare Fraud: The use of deceitful statements, practices, or devices to unlawfully obtain welfare benefits.
Wire Fraud: The use of an electric or electronic communications facility to intentionally transmit a false and/or deceptive message in furtherance of a fraudulent activity.
Larceny/Theft Offenses: The unlawful taking, carrying, leading, or riding away of property from the possession, or constructive possession of another person. (Larceny and Theft will be used synonymously in this manual).
Shoplifting: The theft by someone, other than an employee of the victim, of goods or merchandise exposed for sale.
Theft from Building: A theft within a building that is either open to the general public or where the offender has legal access.
Theft from Coin-Operated Machine or Device: A theft from a machine or device that is operated or activated by the use of coins.
Theft from Motor Vehicle: The theft of articles from a motor vehicle, whether locked or unlocked (can be referred to as a Vehicle Burglary).
Theft from Motor Vehicle Parts/Accessories: The theft of any part or accessory affixed to the interior or exterior of a motor vehicle in a manner which would make the item an attachment of the vehicle or necessary for its operation.
All Other Larceny: – All thefts which do not fit any of the definitions of the specific subcategories of Larceny/Theft listed above.
Motor Vehicle Theft: The theft of a motor vehicle.
Stolen Property Offenses: Receiving, buying, selling, possessing, concealing, or transporting any property with the knowledge that it has been unlawfully taken, as by burglary, embezzlement, fraud, larceny, robbery, etc.
Investigating a Property Crime
As a police officer, you will be inundated with reports of property crimes. The wide range of articles that are reported stolen may seem to be unlimited. It could be anything from a yard gnome to a yacht or an airplane. When dealing with the victims of the crimes, be sure to maintain your professionalism even if the item seems to be of little value. This may be the first and only interaction with police that this victim has encountered. There are times that you may go from a serious felony call and have to fight with a suspect to a call of a stolen bicycle. Treat the victim with respect and take their report, even if you know that the bicycle may never be found.
Identify the victim
To investigate a property crime, you must first have a victim and some item of monetary value that was stolen or damaged. The victim must be willing to pursue the matter and if necessary go to court and testify.
Determine venue or location of occurrence
As a police officer, you must determine where the property was last located before it was stolen or damaged. This determines the appropriate location of the crime. If the property crime occurred in your venue, then you will be responsible for making the police report and helping the victim pursue the case. If the crime happened in another city, county or state then you must refer the victim to that police agency that handles that area. An exception to this rule of venue is in the case of Identity Theft. A victim of Identity Theft is allowed to make the report from their hometown rather than travel to wherever the incident occurred. Being able to report this locally, makes it more convenient for the victim. After you create the report, you then forward the report to the police agency that covers the area where the crime was committed.
Identify the property stolen or damaged
The victim must be able to describe the property. The more information you can gather, the more helpful it will be in identifying it. You will need the brand name, model and the serial number of the property. If the victim does not have this information, you can still make a report, but encourage them to locate a receipt, an owner’s manual, a title or something else that would help them identify it. You also need to get a physical description of the item, such as color, size, and shape.
Another necessary part of the report is to obtain the value of the stolen or damaged property. This is not just for insurance purposes, but it can also determine the class of crime that has been committed. The level of crime then determines the level of punishment by the courts. If the crime is a felony, then a detective may need to take over the case after the original report is made. In smaller departments, the patrol officer handles the entire case until it gets presented to the states attorney’s office. Depending on the complexity of the incident, the patrol officer may need to ask for help from their department or a neighboring agency.
The class of crime can also change the behavior of the suspect. The suspect can become more paranoid or afraid of arrest when they realize that they have committed a felony. This attitude of the suspect can cause them to become violent towards officers that are trying to make the arrest. The suspect may flee on foot which can increase the chance of an officer being hurt. If the suspect flees in a vehicle, this can significantly increase the chance of an officer or a citizen being hurt or killed. Obviously, the ultimate responsibility for the level of punishment falls upon the suspect for committing the crime, but the police need to consider these possibilities for their safety and the safety of their community.
Identifying the suspect
Hopefully, the victim will know who stole or damaged their property. This makes it easier for the officer to solve the case, especially if the victim knows the suspect’s name, address, and date of birth. If the victim gives you suspect information, be sure to broadcast that information as soon as possible. If the victim has no idea who the suspect is, then you need to use your investigative skills. Here are some investigative methods to consider.
∞ Identify and collect evidence at the scene
∞ Canvass for witnesses and video surveillance
∞ Check pawn shops and pawn tickets for the stolen property
∞ Check with confidential informants
∞ Check recent police reports of similar incidents to see if a suspect has been identified in similar crimes
If you gain enough information to identify a suspect, and there is enough probable cause for an arrest, then you should apply for an arrest warrant. In the meantime, you should try to locate the stolen property if it applies to your case.
You will need to perform similar actions and investigative methods in each type of property crime, but there will be case specific methods that you will need to cover depending on the investigative requirements of each instance.
Shoplifting or Retail Theft
In a Shoplifting or Retail Theft case, the officer handling the call must ensure that the minimum requirements are met before the suspect is charged. Here is an example of the Retail Theft law according to the State of Pennsylvania:
A person is guilty of a retail theft if he:
(1) takes possession of, carries away, transfers or causes to be carried away or transferred, any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof;
(2) alters, transfers or removes any label, price tag marking, indicia of value or any other markings which aid in determining value affixed to any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale in a store or other retail mercantile establishment and attempts to purchase such merchandise personally or in consort with another at less than the full retail value with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of such merchandise;
(3) transfers any merchandise displayed, held, stored or offered for sale by any store or other retail mercantile establishment from the container in or on which the same shall be displayed to any other container with intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the full retail value thereof; or
(4) under-rings with the intention of depriving the merchant of the full retail value of the merchandise.
(5) destroys, removes, renders inoperative or deactivates any inventory control tag, security strip or any other mechanism designed or employed to prevent an offense under this section with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession, use or benefit of such merchandise without paying the full retail value thereof.
So in laymen’s terms, this is a recap of the above-listed law:
(1) takes any merchandise offered for sale at any store with the intention of depriving the merchant of the use of such merchandise without paying the full price;
(2) alters or removes any price tag or barcode and attempts to purchase such merchandise at less than the full price;
(3) transfers any merchandise from one container to another with intent to deprive the merchant of all or some part of the full price;
(4) under-rings (a cashier only scans some of the items that their friend is buying, thus “under-charging” them).
(5) deactivates any security device with the intention of depriving the merchant of the possession of such merchandise without paying the full price.
You must first know the law and then be able to ascertain if a violation occurred. You must be able to articulate that violation in your report.
If the case involves shoplifting, you must have a way to identify the suspect. If the suspect fled in a vehicle, the shop owner or loss prevention agent must obtain a valid license plate or have an identification of the suspect via driver’s license, identification card, or having dealt with the suspect at an earlier time. If the suspect’s identity can be verified through video surveillance by the officer or investigator, then that would also be appropriate. If there is no license plate or photo identification to use to find the identity of the suspect, then you do not have enough leads in which to follow up. Your departmental policy would then dictate if you should leave a report or not.
Some departments only issue tickets to the shoplifting suspects and release them at the scene. Whereas some agencies take them into custody, bring them to jail and make them post bail. Either way, the suspect will later have to appear in court for the charges filed. Refer to the Retail theft report in the Documenting Investigations Reading Manual (pgs. 16-19).
For another example of how Retail Theft cases are handled, refer to The Seattle Police Department’s Retail Theft program.
“The Retail Theft Program (RTP) was developed in 1989 with a handful of stores and a couple of contract security companies. Today there are approximately 120 participating stores. The RTP is an alternative reporting procedure. In lieu of reporting a misdemeanor theft (shoplift) or criminal trespass to the police, the RTP participants notify the police in writing (Security Incident Report). The program both saves time for the retail companies — as they don’t need to wait for police follow up at the scene — and frees up police resources for other types of response.”
Refer to the below forms as examples: Security Incident Report Form RTP Manual
One of the big misunderstandings of retail theft is whether or not there was intent to steal. For example, some shoplifters place large items in the bottom of their cart and hope that the cashier does not see them and does not charge them. It is the customer’s responsibility to notify the cashier that the item is still in the cart if they do not place it on the counter. Then if the customer does not pay for the item, then the customer is guilty of retail theft. Another misunderstanding is that the suspect does not have to walk all the way out of the store to be charged with the crime.
Once they go past all points of sale, without paying for the item, then they can be arrested. In
some states, if the suspect removes a price tag or places merchandise into other containers to conceal it, they can be arrested even before they approach the cashier.
Motor Vehicle Theft
When dealing with a Motor Vehicle Theft, the officer must ensure that minimum requirements are met before a report is made, and a suspect is charged.
When dealing with a Motor Vehicle Theft case, ask the victim the following questions:
∞ Did they allow someone to borrow the car?
∞ Is there a chance that the vehicle was repossessed?
∞ Did they misplace the car (e.g. large shopping mall parking lot)?
∞ Are they having financial trouble?
∞ Did a family member or friend use the car?
∞ Did they sell the vehicle for drugs?
Once you have determined that the car has been stolen, then broadcast a vehicle and suspect description and direction of travel, as soon as possible. As with other property crimes, you need to gather information about the color, make, model, and vehicle identification number (VIN) and note anything about the car that would stand out (e.g. a yellow bumper sticker). Also, include the approximate value of the car.
Investigative methods of Auto Theft
Identify and collect evidence at the scene
Evidence of forced entry (e.g. broken glass in the driveway) Did the suspect have a key?
Does the car have a GPS locating device that can track the vehicle?
Did the victim leave their cell phone or device in the car that can be tracked? Neighborhood canvass for witnesses and video surveillance.
Check recent police reports of similar incidents to see if a suspect has been identified. Enter the stolen car and license plate information into NCIC
Check the area for the stolen car. Then write your report. Generally, these cases will be turned over to the investigative division or the Auto Task Force.
Locating a Mobile Stolen Vehicle
If you find the stolen car while it is still mobile, do not immediately activate your emergency lights. First radio in the location of the car, its description and direction of travel. Also, describe the suspect(s) in the vehicle. Try not to make it obvious to the suspects that you are aware of the crime and that you are calling it in. Ensure that you have plenty of backup in the area and have a safe place to deploy stop sticks. Before activating your lights, make sure you have a well thought out plan.
You must have a thorough knowledge of your departmental pursuit policy before engaging in a vehicle pursuit. Also keep in mind that the suspects may be armed, so take the necessary precautions. If the suspects flee from the car, and you have to choose who to pursue, focus on apprehending the driver rather than the passengers. Charges against the driver will be easier to obtain than against the passengers.
Locating an Abandoned Stolen Vehicle
If you do locate the stolen vehicle and it is unoccupied, notify dispatch and your supervisor. Determine if your department is going to immediately seize the car or sit back and prepare for surveillance to see if the suspect returns to the vehicle. Warning, if the suspect is able to regain control of the car and then flee, your department will have liability concerns. From that perspective, it would be more beneficial to the victim and your staff, to just recover the car rather than try to wait for the suspect to return so that he can be apprehended.
When recovering an abandoned stolen vehicle, do not immediately enter the car. It needs first to be dusted for fingerprints or checked for evidence in an attempt to ascertain a suspect. If no one is unavailable to process the car at the scene, then a supervisor needs to determine whether the car should be impounded for processing or returned to the victim.
If the determination is made to impound the vehicle for processing, then call for a tow truck and inform the tow truck driver not to enter or touch the interior of the car or the driver’s door. Place evidence tape across the car doors, trunk, and hood and then sign the tape, half on the tape and half on the car to prevent tampering. Do not place the evidence tape in an area where the suspect may have touched. If the vehicle cannot be processed at the scene, and it has to be moved to another location, the investigator may have to apply for a search warrant to search the car. (check with your prosecutor’s office for how to proceed.) Obviously, if there are any guns or other dangerous weapons in plain view in the car, they need to be seized and secured.
(Search warrant for Timothy McVeigh’s vehicle)
(Seattle Police Department – Handling Auto Theft and Recovery)
Instructions for Preparing an Affidavit and Search Warrant
When preparing these forms, print out four copies, (Original warrant – Return to issuing court, 1st copy to prosecutor, 2nd copy to serve on suspect, 3rd copy to issuing judge)
1. In paragraph one FULLY describe the person, place, or thing to be searched and give its EXACT location.
2. In paragraph two FULLY describe the property/person that is to be searched for and seized.
3. In paragraph three set forth the facts and observations that establish probable cause. If additional pages are necessary, continue on form MC 231a.
4. Present to prosecuting official for review if required locally.
5. Present the original of the affidavit and search warrant to the judge/magistrate for review.
6. Swear to the contents of the affidavit and sign it before the judge/magistrate.
7. Have the judge/magistrate sign both the original of the affidavit and the search warrant (and sign the extra copies).
8. Print names of judge/magistrate and affiant on all copies of the affidavit and/or search warrant.
9. Separate packet, retaining copies to make duplicate tabulations later.
10. Leave original affidavit and last copy of the warrant with the issuing judge/magistrate.
11. Execute search warrant at the location given.
12. Complete the tabulation (list) of property taken in the presence of the person(s) from whom it is seized, if present, or any other person (including another officer).
13. Have person before whom the tabulation is completed sign the tabulation as a witness.
14. Leave a copy of the search warrant and completed tabulation with the person(s) from whom the property was taken, if present, or at the premises.
Return the original search warrant and complete tabulation to the issuing court indicating the date returned and the name of the person(s) served (Michigan Supreme Court, 2016).
(sample template of an affidavit and search warrant)
Types of Burglaries
There are many different types of burglary. Burglary includes breaking into a vacant building or house. Residential burglary refers to someone breaking into a house that is owner-occupied.
Either no one is home or the burglar is able to sneak in and steal without the occupants being alerted. Business burglary is the same as a burglary, but it happens at a place of business. The elements of the crime are the same.
Daytime Burglars normally commit residential burglary. Many residential burglars will break into houses during the day because no one is home. They assume you will be at work and the kids will be at school, etc.
Distraction burglars also commit their crimes in daylight but they try another approach. They often work in pairs and target the elderly. They will knock on the victim’s door and use some sort of confidence scheme to gain entry. Once inside, one thief will distract the victim, while the other pilfers through the victim’s belongings.
The following are some examples:
∞ Ask to use the phone
∞ Ask to use the bathroom
∞ Pretend to work for a utility company
Some agencies will only charge distraction burglars with theft. Check with your local prosecutor’s office before proceeding with a burglary charge.
Nighttime burglars usually break into businesses at night because no one is supposed to be there. Burglars prefer to be secretive and stay unnoticed. If a nighttime burglar decides to break into a residence at night, this increases the chance for violence, both for the victim and the suspect.
Burglars have many methods of breaking in. Some prefer to kick in a back door. Some like to climb through a window. A “doorknob twister” is a burglar who carries a pipe wrench and uses it to twist the doorknob off of the door. Some use lock pick tools, pry bars, screwdrivers and other similar tools.
Types of burglary offenders
One would assume that all burglars are skinny males that can climb through small windows. But burglars come in all ages, shapes, and sizes. They can also be a homeless person, a drug addict, a juvenile or a combination of them all. Here is a list of different burglar types:
Homeless – break into vacant houses or buildings for shelter, food, cash or other small items to sell.
∞ Juveniles – commit burglary for thrills, retaliation, and quick cash. Often leave the crime scene in disarray. Younger offenders sometimes steal only toys.
∞ Drug addict – commit burglary to get cash or items to sell to support their habits
∞ Opportunists – notice an easy target and take advantage of it
∞ Smash and Grab – usually wear a hood or mask to avoid identification. Operates quickly and in groups
∞ Cat burglar – works like a cat. Very stealthy and will climb buildings to enter via the second story. Known for breaking into houses at night when the residents are asleep. Very tidy, rarely leave evidence behind.
∞ Heisters – Targets warehouses and wealthy neighborhoods. Operate as a large team or as part of an organized criminal enterprise (Monitronics, 2015).
Investigative Methods for Burglary
When investigating a burglary, the normal steps taken at a theft scene would also be performed. In addition to that, the following needs to be determined:
- Locate point of entry
- Helps identify modus operandi
- Locate point of exit
- Request canine unit for possible track
- Determine what was damaged
- Determine what was stolen
- Identify and collect evidence at the scene – Fingerprints – Footprints – Tire tracks – Hairs, fibers, and soil, – Blood and DNA – Tool marks and impressions
- Canvass for witnesses and video surveillance
- Broadcast suspect and suspect vehicle info
- Check pawn shops and pawn tickets for the stolen property
- Check with confidential informants
- Check recent police reports of similar incidents to see if a suspect has already been identified
Types of evidence to collect in safe burglary cases
- Safe insulation, paint chips, metal filings, drills,
Looting is another form of burglary. According to Illinois Compiled Statutes, the definition is as follows: (720 ILCS 5/25-4) Sec. 25-4. Looting by individuals.
(a) A person commits looting when he or she knowingly without authority of law or the owner enters any home or dwelling or upon any premises of another, or enters any commercial, mercantile, business, or industrial building, plant, or establishment, in which normal security of property is not present by virtue of a hurricane, fire, or vis major of any kind or by virtue of a riot, mob, or other human agency, and obtains or exerts control over property of the owner.
Looting is an extremely difficult situation to handle. In this situation, the criminals outnumber the police, and it would not be wise to try and arrest them all. The rioters are already acting with a mob mentality, and if you stop to try and arrest them, they will most likely turn on you. The rioters may turn your squad car over with you in it and light it on fire. There is most likely other chaos occurring at the same time in your venue if you are experiencing looting, so keep yourself and your squad as safe as possible and focus on the most serious offenses.
Looting is a property crime. Crimes against persons will take precedence. Using video surveillance at a later time to try and identify the criminals would be a wiser approach.
Actions to take when responding to burglary-in-progress calls
¥ Speedy and safe response
¥ Get description from dispatch
¥ Determine most likely escape route
¥ Looking for suspects while en route
¥ Have back up on the way
¥ Request a canine unit
¥ Look for suspicious behavior in suspects in the area
o Breathing heavy from running
o Looking away from you
o Dirt on face, hands, or clothes
o Making furtive movements
o Wearing gloves or
o Possessing burglary tools
∞ Bolt cutters
∞ Pry bar
∞ Slim Jim
∞ Spark plug ceramic chips
∞ Wire cutters
Methods associated with attacks on ATMs (Automated Teller Machines)
Another form of burglary and theft surrounds the use of an ATM (Automated Teller Machine). There are different ways that thieves attack the ATM. The following is a list of known ATM attacks:
∞ Physical Attacks
o Prying open
o Carrying off with tow truck
∞ Card Skimming
o A device that covers the actual card slot to steal customer card info
∞ Card Trapping
o A device that covers the card slot and traps the card inside the device for later retrieval
∞ Transaction Reversal Fraud (TRF)
o Creates an error code that causes the machine to think the money was not dispensed
∞ Cash Trapping
o A device that traps the customer’s cash inside, then the thief returns later and retrieves the cash
∞ Logical Attacks
o A device that takes control of the machine and causes it to spit out money (Wild, 2015)
Crime Prevention Methods
Every good police officer that is worth his salt will alert victims and citizens of ways to better protect themselves from criminal activity. There have been studies and surveys done, that have asked criminals questions about how to ward off thieves from committing burglary.
¥ Owning a dog – even a small dog will bark and alert the neighbors
¥ Alarm and surveillance system
¥ Fake cameras and alarm system stickers
¥ Locking doors and windows
¥ Installing deadbolts and reinforce door jambs
¥ Keeping lights, television or radio on
¥ Do not tell people you are gone in person
¥ Do not post on social media that you are currently on vacation
¥ When loading a car with suitcases, keep it quick and hidden if possible
¥ Keep your mailbox clear and have someone get your mail when on vacation
¥ Keep your grass mowed, so it looks like someone is home
¥ Keep your landscaping trimmed so a thief cannot hide behind it
¥ Use indoor and outdoor light timers
¥ Pretend that you are saying “goodbye” to someone inside your home when you leave
¥ Do not leave ladders and tools outside that burglars can use
¥ Use a wooden dowel or metal bar for sliding doors and windows so they can’t be pried open.
¥ Get a motion-sensor home security system that lets you monitor your home with your smartphone.
¥ Build a secret hiding place for your valuables (Buzzfeed, 2013).
Auto Burglary and Motor Vehicle Theft
Criminals not only break into buildings and houses, but they also break into vehicles. Most thieves just check car doors to see if they are unlocked to gain entry. Some take it further by breaking out the window or using some tool (i.e. Slim Jim, coat hanger, etc.) to force their way in. Of course, the criminal is to blame, but when the victim leaves valuables in plain sight, it makes it frustrating for police to deal with this over and over.
Motor vehicle theft is a huge problem. From the victim’s standpoint, they are without a car, and this causes more financial hardship. Without a car, they cannot drive to work, take their kids to school, or run their normal errands. Using local transportation is less safe and takes more time to get to your location. Renting a car is costly and becomes a hassle. Obviously, the victim wants to get their car back in one piece without any damage. If there is damage, then they have to fight with insurance companies to get the appropriate replacement or reimbursement.
From a police officer’s standpoint, it takes extra work dealing with the investigation that may have been prevented in the first place. When the stolen car is located and occupied it becomes a safety hazard for the officer and the community. There are liability issues that surround the case putting the police in a bad spot whether or not the suspects are caught.
From the insurance company’s perspective, it costs them money to investigate the claim, and to pay out funds to the customer. Eventually, those costs associated with the claim will be passed on to their customers and society. (e.g. another Camaro was stolen, so now if you have a Camaro your insurance rates go up).
Ways that Criminals Steal Cars
∞ Methods of entry
o Break window
o Slim Jim
o Lockpicking device
∞ Methods to start to car
o Stealing keys
o Car Hacking – thieves use a hand-held electronic device to exploit a glitch in the ‘keyless’ ignition systems used in most top-end vehicles (Derbyshire, 2014)
Motives for Vehicle Theft
o Commission of other crimes – Armed robberies, drive-by shootings
o Stripping operations – chop shops
o Salvage switch operation
o Insurance fraud
Common types of staged crashes
¥ Swoop and squat: Two vehicles trap a victim in a rear-end collision.
¥ Drive down: When waiting to make a left turn, the victim is lured into turning early by an oncoming fraudster who waits and then proceeds just in time to collide.
¥ Wave down: Two vehicles set up a crash with a victim who’s given a wave that it’s safe to pull out of a parking lot or side street.
¥ Enhanced damages: In a legitimate accident, the not-at-fault driver causes additional damage to his or her own vehicle to pump up the claim (Nationwide Insurance).
Vehicle dumping, or “owner give-up,” is another type of car insurance fraud that occurs when the owner disposes of the vehicle by leaving it somewhere, burning it, dumping it in a lake, or even selling it, and then claiming it was stolen.
In situations where the car was sold before being reported stolen, the fraud is intended to pay in two ways: through an insurance settlement, to replace the stolen vehicle and through the sale of the original car.
Staged accidents are rising at an alarming rate, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. Insurers across the U.S. reported a 102 percent increase in suspected cases of this type of fraud from 2008 to 2011, the bureau says.
Hard Insurance Fraud
Hard insurance fraud occurs when someone intentionally causes an incident that allows him to file an auto insurance fraud claim. See the examples below for cases that would be considered “hard fraud.”
∞ A car owner strips her car of its seats, radio, and other valuables. She then files a claim with the insurance company stating that the items were stolen in an attempt to receive monetary compensation.
∞ Two drivers stage a car accident. The first perpetrator drives in front of the selected victim, while another drives behind. The perpetrator in front slows slightly, while the other does not allow the victim to slow down, causing him to crash into the car in front. The car in back drives off, while the victim is accused of injuring the driver in front.
Soft Insurance Fraud
Soft auto insurance fraud occurs when legitimate claims are distorted or there are other lies made for financial benefit. The following cases are examples of soft fraud.
∞ An accident victim claims more car damage after an accident than really occurred.
∞ An accident victim claims that an accident caused an injury or medical condition that was already present.
∞ A car repair service contracted by the car insurance company puts in counterfeit or cheap replacement parts (DMV, 2016).
Ways to Identify a Stolen Vehicle
Due to criminals using these different methods to dispose of these vehicles, it can be a challenge to locate and identify them. Listed below are some indicators that the vehicle may be stolen: (Foster, n.d.)
∞ Stolen license plate
∞ The trunk lock may be punched
∞ The plates may be missing
∞ The plates do not match the car
∞ The ignition is punched
∞ If the steering column is damaged the lights may not work
∞ The driver appears too young
∞ Area, where cars are often stolen or dumped
∞ The driver’s actions show guilt
∞ Unfamiliarity with the controls
∞ Rental cars or out-of-State plates
∞ Reckless or hard driving
∞ A stolen hit on the VIN
Techniques for Disposing of a Stolen Vehicle
∞ Changing the VIN and keeping it
∞ Changing the VIN to sell it
∞ Dumping it in a body of water
∞ Taking it to a chop shop
∞ Burning it
Vehicle Fire Investigation
Vehicle fires can reach extremely high temperatures, due to the chemical make-up of the materials used to make the automobile. Most combustible metals and their alloys need to be powdered or melted to burn; however, solid magnesium, which is present in many motor vehicles, does burn vigorously once ignited by a competent external heat source. Because of the extreme heat, most of the evidence may be lost from the fire. In some cases, small humans or animals have been almost completely consumed. “Badly charred remains of children or infants are even harder to identify because their smaller mass and reduced calcification allows more destruction. While it is difficult to destroy the remains of an adult human in a structure or even vehicle fire, remains of infants can be consumed so completely as to defy identification (NFPA, 2004).” Because of this extreme heat, VIN plates can be left unreadable.
Methods for assisting in the identification of a recovered vehicle
If the VIN is rendered unreadable or appears to have been tampered with, then the assistance of one of the following should be requested:
¥ A police auto theft unit
¥ A member of the National Insurance Crime Bureau in the United States
These persons have the necessary expertise to identify the vehicle by means of confidential numbers located elsewhere on the vehicle. The VIN should be checked on either the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) to ensure there is no record outstanding on it (Interfire, 2016).
Dealing with Thefts of Heavy Equipment and Farm Machinery
When dealing with normal vehicle thefts, an officer can run a license plate or a VIN to discover that it is reported stolen. With farm equipment and heavy equipment such as bulldozers, backhoes and other types of industrial type machinery, there are no license plates associated with them and they are not usually driven on the roadway. These types of vehicles have less public exposure with citizens or with the police, so the thief may have it sitting on their property or use it for their construction company for years while it is undetected.
Title and registration issues related to Marine Theft
Marine Theft is a serious problem and includes the stealing of boats, boat trailers, outboard motors and any equipment associated with boating.
¥ Over 30 states require that boats be titled, but only a few states require the titling of outboard motors
Ð Many boats are exempt from tilting due to length or horsepower
Ð Many jurisdictions don’t have computerized registration systems
Ð Registration files in only a few states can be accessed using the National Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (McGraw-Hill, 2003).
Aircraft and Avionics Theft
Most would assume that the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) handles airplane theft, but when a plane is stolen, the victim must first call the local police agency and then the police department forwards their report to the FBI.
“Airplanes are relatively easy to steal as long as the thief knows how to fly and is familiar with airport procedures. If the owner does not leave the keys in the aircraft, the plane can be hotwired. After starting the aircraft, the thief simply contacts the airport control tower for takeoff instructions. An additional area of aircraft-related thefts is the theft of avionics equipment (radios, navigation equipment, radar, etc.). Preventive steps by aircraft owners should include the following:
(1) Store the aircraft in a locked hanger or park it in a well-lighted and secure area;
(2) Use metal aircraft tie-down straps of sufficient strength to discourage cutting;
(3) Install anti-theft devices, such as wheel locks;
(4) Complete a list of all serial numbered items on the aircraft;
(5) Keep an aircraft logbook to show any aircraft modifications; and
(6) Check radios and navigation equipment regularly to ensure they have not been switched.
To facilitate investigation of aircraft thefts, police should become familiar with aircraft and their components. Stolen aircraft data should be immediately entered into the National Crime Information Center (NCJRS, 1982).”