The Home-Burning Foreclosure Alternative In a last ditch effort before foreclosure, some people are burning down their homes for the insurance money. How difficult is it to get away with it?
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The Home-Burning Foreclosure Alternative

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The Home-Burning Foreclosure Alternative

The Home-Burning Foreclosure Alternative

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is Day to Day. I'm Alex Chadwick.


And I'm Madeleine Brand. Imagine being so behind on your mortgage payments, you'd consider burning down your home for the insurance money. Well, some people facing foreclosure are doing just that. Joining us now to talk about these arson cases is James Quiggle of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Welcome to the program.

Mr. JAMES QUIGGLE (Director of Communications, Coalition Against Insurance Fraud): Thank you, Madeleine.

BRAND: Well, this sounds very desperate. You have to be pretty much at the end of your rope to consider burning down your house. How big a trend is this?

Mr. QUIGGLE: Mortgages were very easy to come by. People got in over their heads. They can't afford it. Now, they are desperate. They are looking for a way out through illegal insurance fraud by torching their houses. We're seeing warning signals of a potential trend in home arsons all around the country. We've seen an uptick in suspicious arsons of homes that are in foreclosure right now. These are the early warning signals. Whether the hand grenade will go off and turn into a full-fledged national crime problem is another story, but investigators are definitely worried about the possibility.

BRAND: Well, you're saying possibility, but have there been actual cases?

Mr. QUIGGLE: There are quite a few cases around the country of homes that are in foreclosure that suddenly and suspiciously went up in fire. This has put investigators on high alert, and they are watching very closely for more potential arsons of the same kind.

BRAND: Are we talking about three or four, or three or four dozen, or 300 or 400?

Mr. QUIGGLE: I've personally tracked at least 20 to 25 cases around the country that at least are suspicious and could be mortgage related. There could be a lot more bubbling up as the investigations continue around the country.

BRAND: Well, are you expecting this? I mean, it sounds like, you know, if you're that desperate, and you think, oh, gosh, I can't pay this, you know, this very high mortgage payment anymore, people look around and think, well, gosh, this is the only way I can get out of it?

Mr. QUIGGLE: Desperate people will do desperate things. Whenever the economy takes a - turns south, people will often resort to insurance fraud to bail themselves out. They may burn their cars. They may make fake workers'-comp claims. In this case, we may be seeing an uptick in home arsons by desperate home owners looking for insurance fraud as a bailout.

BRAND: Well, are you seeing any kind of insurance fraud with other things like cars, for example?

Mr. QUIGGLE: There are signs that people are burning their cars for insurance money, as well. When they're losing their jobs or their investments are going south, they are looking for desperate measures to recoup the lost cash. Insurance fraud is often an easy way to do it, and some people will burn their cars to get a little extra cash.

BRAND: What's the evidence? How do you know when someone has burned their own house down?

Mr. QUIGGLE: Investigators look for warning signals. They'll see if somebody has sprinkled gasoline in the living room and set that on fire, or maybe the space heater was set too close, suspiciously close to a couch. They'll look for signs of cooking oil left burning on a stove. They'll also look to see the person's financial condition. Is the person behind on their taxes? Are they facing foreclosure? Was the fire committed suspiciously close to the time when the house was going to be foreclosed? These are the warning signals.

BRAND: What are you and your colleagues doing in the insurance industry to try to prevent this?

Mr. QUIGGLE: Insurance investigators are on high alert. They are watching especially closely for the financial condition of homes that are going up in flames. If they are in foreclosure, they are going to be looking very, very closely for the warning signs of arson. It's important, also, to educate the public that this a hard crime to get away with. You are an amateur arsonist up against trained professionals who know the signs of fraud. You are up against people who know what to do, and it's really an uneven playing field. Your chances of getting away with it are very slim.

BRAND: However, if you have nothing to lose, you have nothing to lose.

Mr. QUIGGLE: You may think you have nothing to lose, but you have plenty. You could end up with a criminal conviction and also lose your house. This is a very high price to pay for getting mortgage that was too easy to buy earlier.

BRAND: James Quiggle is with the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Thanks for joining us.

Mr. QUIGGLE: Thank you too, Madeleine.

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