A deliberately set fire in Argyle may be an extreme outlier, but insurance fraud is on the rise. Martha Lester-Mittenzwei is the Insurance and Risk Management Program Director at Madison College. She said insurance fraud is trending upwards with the economic downturn. “People are suffering financially and they’re looking for alternate ways to obtain money,” she said. “Most people who commit insurance fraud don’t ever anticipate that they’re going to be caught.” Insurance fraud represents the second most common white-collar crime after tax evasion, and one in five adults surveyed in 2010 said it’s acceptable to defraud insurance companies.
While the tragic fire in Argyle has gained a lot attention, Lester-Mittenzwei said the fraud takes many forms. For example, thefts of SUVs when gas hit four dollars a gallon. “You couldn’t sell those cars,” she said. “So there were some consumers that were turning to having those vehicles stolen, and then turning a claim in.”
The reason insurance fraud seldom works out is that insurance companies have become increasingly adept at detecting it. Lester-Mittenzwei said most now deploy
special investigations adjusters, who take over claims when fraudulent activity is suspected. She said such investigators know what to look for. “You haven’t paid your mortgage for two months, you’re facing foreclosure. That’s a key red flag for them,” she explained.
Prosecutors believe the Argyle fire was deliberately set in an attempt to collect on life insurance policies. Three children died.