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ISSUED: 5/06/2003 FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

DEPARTMENTS OF INSURANCE AND STATE RECOGNIZE ARSON AWARENESS WEEK AND ENCOURAGE CONSUMERS TO JOIN IN THE FIGHT AGAINST ARSON

Insurance Frauds Cases Prove Arson is Not A Victimless Crime

Insurance Superintendent Gregory V. Serio and Secretary of State Randy A. Daniels today recognized Arson Awareness Week by cautioning New Yorkers to protect themselves from arson-related insurance fraud. Arson is a serious crime that results in deaths of innocent victims and firefighters, as well as economic losses for individuals and businesses whose property was destroyed or affected by the arson fire.

"At this time of year, during Arson Awareness Week, it is important to highlight the Insurance Department’s efforts and to partner with the Department of the State and the law enforcement community to educate the public on the senseless crime of arson," said Serio. "The Department recognizes that arson plays a major role in insurance fraud and educating the community about arson will help prevent arson-related insurance fraud."

Secretary of State Randy A. Daniels, whose agency oversees the State Office of Fire Prevention and Control (OFPC), said, "Prevention is the best way to protect New Yorkers from fire, and our ongoing efforts to raise awareness and reduce the number of arson fires will help save lives. Governor Pataki has provided us with valuable resources in this effort, including stricter sentences for arson crimes, and we will continue to work closely with the State Insurance Department to combat arson and enhance public safety."

Governor Pataki has designated May 4th-10th Arson Awareness Week here in New York State, in an effort to raise public awareness about arson and recognize the efforts of the men and women in the fire and law enforcement community who diligently gather evidence that leads to the apprehension of those guilty of the crime of arson.

Arson is estimated to have caused 500 deaths and $2 billion in property damage nationally each year. Three of every four vacant building fires are officially classified as incendiary or suspicious and firefighters are three times more likely to be injured fighting a vacant building fire than any ordinary structure fire.

"Arson is becoming one of the costliest crimes facing our nation today. In addition to the danger inherent in arson fires, this type of insurance fraud increases premium for honest premium paying consumers," added Serio. "The damage and danger of arson initially is the loss of life and/or property, but these arsonists then submit claims to receive insurance money and fraudulently take money out of the insurance system that should be used for payments on legitimate claims. The Department is committed to working closely with the insurance industry to ensure that only legitimate claims are paid."

The Department in 2002 received 149 reports of suspicious fires related to insurance fraud. Some of the most recent cases include:

  • A Warsaw woman and her boyfriend plead guilty to setting half of a duplex house on fire while five occupants were asleep in the other half of the duplex in order to obtain money from her renter’s insurance policy. Fortunately, everyone escaped the fire unharmed.
  • A Romulus man was found guilty of five counts of arson in the 1st degree and five counts of murder in the 2nd degree by a Seneca County jury in March. He was arrested in November of 2002 for setting fire to his home in which his wife and four children died.
  • A bakeshop owner in Deposit was charged in February with insurance fraud and arson in the 2nd degree and is suspected of starting a fire which originated in the bakeshop and spread throughout the larger structure, which included occupied apartments.
  • Also in February, an upstate man was charged with setting fire to a vacant house in Watervliet, in an attempt to collect an insurance settlement. His ex-girlfriend, who is cooperating in the investigation, led the police to the suspect. Two firefighters, unaware that the house was vacant, were inside when the floor gave out. They escaped the burning building with the help of other firefighters.

"Private citizens are a key element in providing information to help law enforcement solve arson crimes," Serio stated. "Anyone with information relating to a suspected arson is urged to report it to New York State Insurance Department Frauds Bureau at 1-888-FRAUD-NY (1-888-372-8369)."

Governor George E. Pataki designated May 4-10, 2003 "Arson Awareness Week" in New York in support of the United States Fire Administration’s (USFA) and the International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI.) "National Arson Awareness Week". The theme of this year’s "National Arson Awareness Week" is "Arson is NOT a Victimless Crime."

Steps that can be taken to reduce the incidents of arson:

  • If you know or suspect that an arson crime has been committed, contact your local fire or police department.
  • If you suspect a child is setting fires notify the proper authorities, it may not be "just a phase" they are going through. Keep matches and lighters out of reach and out of sight of young children.
  • Report suspicious activity near houses or other buildings to the local police and support Neighborhood Watch programs.
  • Keep leaves, firewood, overgrown brush and shrubbery and other combustibles away from buildings. Most arson fires are started outdoors. Don’t make it easy for an arsonist to start a fire or easy for an outdoor fire to spread to a building.
  • Keep doors and windows locked when a building is unoccupied. But don’t use double cylinder deadbolt locks without keeping a key nearby, bars without quick release mechanisms, or other security provisions that could trap a person in a building with a deadly fire.

 

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