The recent economic slowdown, as shown by all indicators (except those used by George Bush), has caused SUV and car owners to resort to arson to pay off their debts. This is not a new phenomenon, but car arson (or torching), and insurance fraud are both well-established.
It is seen as a direct correlation with the economy. The level of insurance fraud tends decrease when the economy is healthy. People find themselves in debt when the economy slows down or experiences negative growth (George Bush would call it a lull, or any other four-letter word). The more desperate times are, the more people will be willing to have their cars burned or to risk being caught.
In every state, from California to North Carolina, there has been an increase in insurance fraud and car arson over the past two years. There are some cars that were actually stolen, vandalized, and then burned. But there is a big difference. True theft is when the thief tries to identify or link the car back. The arsonist may attempt to cause the car to be totaled (too damaged that it can be repaired) in the event of an intentional burn in insurance fraud. Arson investigators will often find accelerants that were similar to gas or other flammable liquids.
Arson task forces have been established in many counties in response to the rise in insurance fraud and car arson cases. They have linked used and new car dealership employees as arsonists in several California cases. A person comes to the dealership with a lot of debt. They want to trade in their vehicle or car to lower their car payments. They discover that they are “upside down”, which is a term used to describe the fact that they owe more than what their car is worth. A salesperson or similar employee realizes that money can be made and refers them to an arsonist. The car is then set on fire. These cases are not uncommon and there are more.
This is where the problem lies: people are being sold cars that they don’t have the money for, they aren’t taking responsibility for their debts and they aren’t properly educated about debt. The result is an increase insurance costs for everyone. All of these problems can be addressed. California has many consumer protection laws that obligate dealers to be more responsible. However, more must be done to enforce maximum debt ratios. Secondary schools should have standard education on money and debt management.
If we are able to offer classes on marketing, home economics, cooking, UFO’s, Madonna, and other topics (just take a look at the Cal Tech class list), we can make a mandatory or offer a class on money and debt. Experts like Anthony Robbins and Suze Orman believe that debt, money and wealth can all be taught. All politicians should take a class in debt management and money management. (Can you imagine how much better our economy would look if George Bush saw America’s economy as his and tried to reduce the national debt instead doubling it?) There are legal ways to get out of debt. Debts are obligations that we make. Insurance fraud and car arson are both harmful to everyone.