Detecting Arson and Fraud Associated with Fire

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The concept of reducing or eliminating a person’s responsibility with the possibility to gain personally or financially from a fire loss is how arson and fraud have become so closely associated. Society has a general acceptance that fire is a natural phenomenon and is not anyone’s fault. Detecting arson and fraud associated with fire can be difficult because the destruction of physical evidence can be extensive.

Fraud is defined as the wrongful deception for personal gain. Fraud occurs when a person knows they are being dishonest, what they are doing is wrong, and they do it for personal or financial gain anyway. Arson has a common definition as the willful or malicious burning of something, to include fraudulent and or criminal intent. The crimes of arson and fraud have been linked together for centuries. Thousands of years ago Hammurabi Law codified that debtors had less responsibility to repay creditors if a loss occurred to the debtor as the result of an Act of God. Although we have modernized language to use the term natural in place of the phrase an Act of God, fire has long been interpreted as an Act of God, caused by something natural, without direct involvement of a person.

These concepts together are why criminals engage in committing fraud through arson or fraud after a fire. Some people believe the detection of any crime will be difficult because there is destruction of physical evidence by the fire and people will generally accept no one is to blame.

Some examples of fraud by arson or fraud after a fire are as follows. A person intentionally starts a fire to burn property such as a vehicle, home, or building because they can no longer afford to make the necessary payments to a creditor. This scenario is often associated with a fraudulent insurance claim because creditors almost always require amortized property to be insured against loss. The goal of the person committing fraud in this instance is to simply be relived of the financial responsibility of the property they agreed to pay for. In a similar scenario a person starts a fire to burn property such as a vehicle, home, or building because they believe they can gain financially from collecting a payout from an insurance claim on the insured property. Some instances of fraud occur because an insured person fraudulently claims that property was damaged or destroyed in a fire. This instance can occur in scenarios where the fire that caused the loss was not intentional or it can be in addition to the crime of intentionally causing the fire.

Some people mistakenly believe that fraud crimes don’t hurt anyone or that it is only financially impacting a big company that won’t be hurt paying a fraudulent insurance claim. The FBI estimates that the cost of non-health insurance fraud cost more than $40 billion per year, averaging $400 to $700 in direct cost to a typical U.S. family per year. The financial impact of fraud does not cover the injuries, damage, or cost incurred to emergency responders, neighbors, bystanders, and taxpayers as a result of the impact of the incident itself.

Hammurabi Law  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Code_of_Hammurabi

FBI Basic Overview on Insurance Fraud https://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/insurance-fraud#:~:text=Costs%20of%20Fraud,the%20form%20of%20increased%20premiums.

Texas Association of Special Investigative Units https://tasiu.clubexpress.com/

HCFMO https://www.hcfmo.net/

Summer Camp Questions Every Parent Should Ask

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Did you know that The American Camp Association, the only national accreditation body for camps, requires camps to meet just 18 percent of its 255 standards and practices? Thanks to Meow Meow Foundation, you will know what questions to ask summer camps before sending your kids. The tragic loss of 6-year-old Roxie at a summer camp, that was afterwards deemed inadequate, lead her parents to create the Meow Meow foundation to bring awareness to summer camp and water safety.

Our CEO, Rania Mankarious sat down on the Balanced Voice Podcast with Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas to discuss their story, their foundation and how Roxie’s death can lead to saving other kids.

Watch their discussion and learn more about Doug Forbes and Elena Matyas here:

Summer break is finally here and kids are ready to explore, relax and have fun. Often times, summer camps are on the to-do list in majority of households. Whether those camps are day camps, overnight camps, dance camps, horse riding camps or sports camps; all camps should be held to a high safety standard. As a parent, where do you start? Research is important before choosing the camp you want to send your child to. While it can be comforting to send them to a camp recommended by a family friend, be sure to check the camp out on your own. Though the ACA refuses to tell parents that standards and practices that have allowed camps to be deemed “accredited”, there are questions you can ask that will give you insight on how the camp operates. Below you will find a list of questions that will be helpful in finding the right camp for you and your child.

Camp Questions:

  • Does the camp operate with a valid license from the county department of public health?
  • Was the camp inspected at an announced visit before summer season and again during an unannounced visit operating season?
    • Are these inspection result public?
  • Have you executed a thorough internet search – to see if a camp is responsible for an injuries or deaths (drowning, falling, impalement), sexual or other abuses?
  • Does the camp comply with mandated reporter requirements?

Counselors and Staff Questions:

  • Does the camp employ counselors and staff with any criminal background?
    • Do they conduct annual background checks?
  • Are camp staff CPR certified before being hired?
    • Be aware if they are certified on-site
    • What other types of training do they receive?
  • Is the camp health director a physician or registered / vocational nurse?
  • Is there an on-site health supervisor that is 25+ years-old?

Activity Questions:

  • Does the camp offer high-risk activities? (Riflery, aquatics, horseback riding, climbing etc. )?
    • If so, does the camp possess training, certifications and equipment for high-risk activities?
  • Does the camp have a pool or swimming area?
    • If so, does the pool / swimming area meet all current legal standards?
  • Does the camp certify lifeguards at legitimate organizations?
    • Beware of on-site training after hiring.
    • Are lifeguards re-tested every year?
    • Does a camp keep a log of all swimmers, their abilities and restrictions?
  • Does the camp have and require proper gear for high-risk activities (zip-line, archery, horseback riding)?
  • Does the camp have an emergency management plan for each activity?


Download our Bilingual Summer Safety Tips Here! 

Elder Scams You Should Know About

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Elder Fraud takes many shapes and sizes as criminal elements seek to take advantage of this vulnerable and growing population. The FBI has prioritized its efforts to address elder fraud and will continue to do so along with our partners.

Since senior citizens are a particularly vulnerable victim group, they are often specific targets of financial fraud crimes because of their life situation and financial position. Seniors are often more polite and trusting, have difficulty saying “no,” may be lonely or spend a great deal of time alone, have diminished physical or mental capacity, less likely to report the crime out of shame, and are financially stable.

Criminals often focus their efforts on the senior demographic to exploit these characteristics, at times using intimidation tactics or threatening violence, and wreaking havoc on their elderly victims’ financial, psychological, and physical well-being.

The fraudsters buy and trade lead lists on the Internet with seniors’ names, phone numbers and other personal information to contact potential victims. Victims of these schemes often lose thousands of dollars or more apiece, which can cause significant harm to elderly victims’ survival.

An important step in avoiding being victimized is educating the population to be more aware of the numerous types of scams targeting the elderly.

Some of these scams include:

  • Technical-Support Scams: Fraudsters make telephone calls and claim to be computer technicians associated with a well-known company or they may use internet pop-up messages to warn about non-existent computer problems. The scammers claim they have detected viruses or hacking attempts on the victim’s computer. They pretend to be “tech support” and ask that the victim give them remote access to his or her computer. Eventually, they diagnose a non-existent problem and ask the victim to pay large sums of money for unnecessary services. Tech Support Scams often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victim payments and transmit proceeds to perpetrators.
  • Romance Scams: Millions of Americans use dating and social networking sites to meet people- many forge successful relationships. But scammers also use these and other internet sites to meet potential victims. They create fake profiles to build online relationships and eventually convince people to send money for some favor or need. An online love interest who asks for money is almost certainly a fraudster. Romance Scams often use U.S.-based money mules to receive victims’ payments and transmit proceeds to perpetrators. Sometimes, perpetrators of Romance Scams convince victims to serve as money mules, receiving illegal proceeds of crime and forwarding those proceeds to perpetrators. For example, Romance Scam victims often are induced to receive goods/payments, such as cell phones procured through fraud, and to forward those payments and goods directly or indirectly to perpetrators.
  • Government Imposter Scams: Government Imposter Scams are aggressive and sophisticated phone scams. Callers claim to be employees of a government agency such as the FBI, the IRS, or the Department of Homeland Security, but are not. They use fake names and nonexistent case numbers. Victims are told they owe money to the government agency, and it must be paid promptly through a wire transfer or a gift card. Victims who refuse to cooperate are threatened with arrest, deportation, or suspension of a driver’s license or social security benefits. No federal, state, or local government agency will call to ask you for money!

If you believe you are a victim of fraud, or know a senior citizen who may be, regardless of financial loss, immediately report the incident to your local FBI field office or law enforcement agency, by calling 1-800-CALL-FBI, online tips.fbi.gov, or through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at www.ic3.gov.

Don’t be a Noob – Talk to Boys About Online Safety

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April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it’s an important time to talk about the online exploitation of children. Today, children are spending more time on the internet. During the COVID-19 pandemic there has been a dramatic increase in reports of online exploitation. In the year 2020 alone, reports of online enticement to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) to the CyberTipline grew by 97.5% compared to 2019. Online video games have been very popular for years and are especially popular now. Because of social distancing precautions, more and more children (especially boys) are playing online video games for entertainment and as a way to socialize with friends.

. Online sexual exploitation using gaming platforms is often not at the top of their list of concerns. If you’re a “noob” or someone new to online gaming, it is important to know that these video games are not like what you might have played as a young person- they have become more than just games, but also a tool to connect with friends and meet new people. Using built-in chat features on consoles like Xbox and PlayStation, young children can connect through the game itself and on sites Several games feature “lobbies” for players to converse before beginning game play. In this context, it is common to develop relationships with strangers.

The anonymity of online interfaces of these gaming platforms increases the risk of sexual exploitation, and boys are particularly vulnerable. According to Pew Research Center, players of online video games are disproportionately boys, with 97% of teen males playing video games on some device. Though most people who play online games have positive experiences, as with any platform that allows communication with others, there is the possibility for online sexual exploitation. For example, competitive team-centric shootout style games with a shared objective to achieve victory are particularly popular right now. Perpetrators target and groom children by building camaraderie as a teammate to learn personal details in a way that is unique to gaming platforms, and then use this information and trust to sexually exploit the child. With boys spending so much time online and the potential for unmonitored interactions, we need to talk about it.

Start the conversation and do some research. Talking about online sexual exploitation can be hard, so NCMEC developed resources to help! NCMEC offers a variety of tools to help jumpstart talking to your children about online safety and signs of potential online exploitation. Parental involvement is critical when it comes to helping children game more safely. Take an active interest in the games that your child plays and wants to buy; that means talking to them about it and doing a little research on the game’s rating, game-play style, content and age-appropriateness.

Teach online safety skills. Into the Cloud, NCMEC’s animated online safety adventure series, presents important safety information in an age-appropriate and entertaining manner for children 10 and younger. To start a dialogue with your child, each episode has a corresponding You can find more resources to teach children of all ages online safety skills by visiting www.missingkids.org/netsmartz.

Report. If you suspect sexual exploitation of a child, even if you’re not sure, report it to the CyberTipline.  NCMEC’s  CyberTipline® is a centralized reporting system for online exploitation of children. NCMEC staff review each tip and then make the report available to the appropriate law enforcement agency for possible investigation.

To make a CyberTipline Report, visit report.cybertip.org.

Every child deserves to feel safe and protected, period.

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My name is Kerry McCracken. I am the Executive Director of The Children’s Assessment Center, Harris County’s Advocacy Center for sexually abused children. I am so grateful that April has been designated as National Child Abuse Prevention Month to bring even more emphasis to this sad but important issue.

Every child deserves to feel safe and protected, period.

175 children are abused in Texas every day. 700,000 children are abused in the United States every year. These numbers are shocking and unacceptable.

Child abuse comes in many forms. Physical abuse, sexual abuse, neglect, emotional abuse, and malnutrition are all abuse. No form of abuse is acceptable and all forms of abuse are preventable. That’s where you come in. It is every adult in our community’s job to protect children and prevent abuse. So how do we do that?

Report any suspicion of child abuse. It’s the right thing to do. Many people are afraid of reporting suspicions of abuse but when weighing the pros and cons it is an easy choice:

(1) Report child abuse so that a trained professional can investigate the allegation and either determine that no abuse occurred or determine that abuse has occurred and remove the child from danger; or
(2) Don’t report child abuse and run the risk that a child will continue to be abused, that additional children will be abused, or worse yet, that the child will suffer serious harm or death.

Educate yourself. Learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of child abuse. Common behavioral signs include depression, anxiety, anger, loss of appetite, withdrawal from normal activities, substance abuse, self-mutilation, fear of certain places or bed-wetting, night sweats, nightmares, and thoughts of suicide. Sexual acting out and language that is not age-appropriate are also signs of sexual abuse. Learn more about recognizing the 10 Signs of Child Abuse and Tips for Protecting Your Children.

Talk to your children. In the digital age, talking to your children is more important than ever. Don’t wait until your kids are teenagers. Start young and talk often. It’s an ongoing conversation and an important conversation. Let them feel safe talking to you. Teach them about boundaries. Ask who their friends are and make sure they are age-appropriate. Here are some age-appropriate books to start the conversation about body autonomy and how to keep their bodies safe.

Monitor your children’s online activity. Predators use the internet to find victims and due to the pandemic, kids spend more time online than ever. Pay attention. Know who your kids are talking to online and know what sites they visit. You can learn more about how to protect your children by using blocking and filtering software.

The point of Child Abuse Prevention Month is to bring awareness, not fear. Knowledge is power and we owe it to the children of our community to arm ourselves with the tools to be their protectors and their voice. Please join me, not only in April but year-round.

Report Suspected Abuse
Call 1(800)252-5400 or 9-1-1
www.txabusehotline.org