Public Outreach Update

Fraud fighters looking to boost people’s alertness to money-draining scams can ramp up their deterrent juices by holding consumer-outreach events during International Fraud Awareness Week. The global confab takes place Nov. 17-23.

Concerned crime-fighting groups in the U.S. and other nations already are in planning mode. In past years, some insurers have brought their staff together for a full work week of entertaining events with a serious purpose: Help employees better detect warning clues to this $80-billion crime.

Actually, any time of the year is right for a consumer campaign. Awareness weeks like the international event, however, are popular and well-established. Thus they have a strong pull for many anti-crime groups.

These events are a great platform to motivate and educate staff … reach consumers. … or both.

The benefits are many: Have fun … Save money — alert employees how to thwart more dishonest claims. … Show the great value of fraud-fighting. … Help build an enterprise-wide culture of intolerance of fraud. …. Build goodwill with consumers.

Finding consumer resources to get people excited is your creative campaign challenge.

Outreach tools you can use

Visit the Coalition’s library of high-impact outreach tools you can use. They’re exclusive Coalition member benefits — you can brand them with your name, logo and URL.

Consumer videos. Visit the cellblock, check out 15 videos you can adopt. Learn how a woman loses a job offer after admitting she has a fraud conviction. Or why Weasy the fraud weasel drives his clunky car off a cliff.

Infographics. Show how fraud damages all of us — and did you know an arson dog’s nose is 100,000 times better than a human’s? Also … teach people how to avoid roof-busting contractor scams.

Fraud alerts. Setup crashes … vehicle repair cons … towing hustles … roofer swindles — and much more. All the warning signs and ways people can avoid cons are detailed in fraud alerts you can adapt.

Brochures & posters. Handouts for auto cons … why fraud hurts … how comp scams work. Comp posters: Getting fingerprinted “Makes a lasting impression” one poster says, tongue in cheek. Everything’s free for Coalition members — and we’ll help you customize.

 Real-life cases. Sharing extreme schemes in newsletters, on the intranet and other venues can liven up an awareness event. The Hall of Shame and Fraud of the Month have memorable tales of woe to show people the price we all pay.

• Create a tagline. Fraud — the crime you pay for … Get a grip on fraud … Fed up with fraud. A tagline focuses your campaign, and inspires people to rally for your outreach event.

For more info … email Jim Quiggle or call 202-393-7331. To adopt the Coalition videos, infographics, brochures or anything else, just email Kendra Smith or call 202-393-7330.

Thinking about faking a workers comp injury in San Diego County?

You get to wear a fashionably trendy blue prison outfit once you’re sentenced.

“Commit Workers Comp Fraud, Get a New Outfit.” That’s the blunt message that San Diego County DA Summer Stephan sent to the 3.2 million residents of California’s second-largest county during a 1-year public-awareness blitz ending August 2019.

The stark warnings were worded in English and Spanish.

The ads are flaring out throughout the county. When the campaign ends, the saturation will look like this:

41 billboards on high-trafficked roads and 30 bus shelters … 500 posters on buses and trollies. … 8,000 public service announcements on 37 TV stations — in English and Spanish. … At least 300,000 people will be reached via booths at large community events such as the Vista Strawberry Festival and Encinitas Spring Street Fair.

Discouraging words. The blunt prison threats discouraged many workers from making bogus comp claims — while encouraging people report scams to the DA’s toll free hotline.

Stephan is onto something, positive campaign metrics show.

The county averaged 15 prosecutions of injury cheaters between 2011-12 and 2018-19. That’s the timeframe the country amped up its annual outreach campaigns. Prosecutions dropped 42 percent in the county over the prior eight-year period, before all the ads started appearing.

Carpet-bombing the county with deterrent ads is an integral part of Stephan’s prosecution strategy against this $4-billion annual crime in the county.

Normally honest workers. Preventing fraud crimes by convincing average workers not to make bogus injury claims costs a lot less than prosecuting them, Stephan reasons. Deterrent ads can reach them because they’re normally honest people who make a big mistake in judgement. They comprise about half of all workers-comp cheaters in the country — a large audience worth reaching.

Investigators thus are freed up to chase the big-dollar comp crimes such as medical rings and businesses that misclassify workers to avoid comp premiums. Deterrent ads can’t convince these hardened criminals, so investigating and prosecuting is the best strategy.

The awareness campaign also went close up and personal this year. Dominic Dugo is Chief Deputy DA. He barnstorms the county with presentations to community groups.

Dugo explains how comp schemes work, how much damage they do, and outlines the warning signals. Local chambers of commerce, employees, insures, agents and others heard Dugo’s messages. He’s retiring in September after 33 years in the DA’s office.

So instead of a fancy goodbye staff lunch, Dugo’s last day of work will be a community talk — at least his 30th of the year.

Teaching reporters about fraud’s heart-rending damage to people’s lives can earn positive news coverage of anti-fraud efforts.

Here are several news stories that show how fraud fighters, consumers and even journalists spoke out against fraud. Collectively, they’ve reached millions of consumers with deterrent messages. They’re also a lesson on the benefits of educating reporters about fraud, and reaching out with story ideas.

Sharing comp busts. Massachusetts had a record year for tracking down workers-comp cheaters in 2018. All the shiny handcuffs drew the attention of a prominent Boston TV station.

The ABC News affiliate profiled the state fraud bureau’s successes. The story went far in educating consumers about comp fraud — and the bureau as an effective crime-fighting force.

Why so many suspected cheaters in the first place?

“Personally, I believe it’s because they think that they’re smarter than the next guy. They’re probably heard someone getting away with this,” Tony DiPaolo, the bureau’s VP of investigations, told the ABC affiliate. Except for the cheats who got busted.

Premium problems. “Not only does insurance fraud affect you in the form of higher premiums on the policies you have, but you’re also paying a fraud tax on goods and services — for everything,” says Jim Potts, chair of the New York Alliance Against Insurance Fraud, in an interview with NBC (Buffalo).

Roof money repaid. A former college basketball star paid a contractor $2,500 to fix his roof in Wichita, Kans. The contractor didn’t finish the work. Frustrated, 86-year-old Cleo Littleton went to the city’s ABC News affiliate with his tale.

The ensuing TV newscast recounted the busted roof in detail, and blanketed the community. The contractor repaid Littleton after all the negative publicity raised the heat on his operation.

Fraud spikes premiums. A local newspaper defended insurers after Patrick Wayne Bronnon was convicted of burning and flooding homes for insurance paydays in the Beaumont, Tex. area. Some people wrote the Port Arthur Newsabout the conviction. Insurers, not people like Bronnon, were to blame for high premiums, the consumers said.

… Well, consider this: When fraudulent claims are filed and paid, rates generally rise for everyone else,” the Port Arthur News says in an oped. “When fires are set and other harmful actions taken in fraud cases, they launch a series of actions for first-responders that can create the conditions for unintended accidents and injuries. Fires can spread out of control; first responders can get into wrecks.”

Detroit’s Most Wanted. Mona Fawaz has a 10-year record of burning down buildings — including her own home for an insurance payout. She’s on the run, and made Detroit’s Most Wanted list.

“… a fire was set and two of our heroes, two Dearborn firemen, were inside. They don’t know that this is insurance fraud, they don’t know if anyone’s inside the house. So they’re rushing in to try to save anybody or put this fire out,” federal prosecutor Marshal Aaron Garcia told the Detroit affiliate of ABC News.

Money from your pockets. The insurance department in South Dakota sent a loud anti-fraud warning to residents. Scott Goebel is charged with 19 bogus vehicle damage claims. A reporter interviewed commissioner Jon Godfread.

“Each claim filed, Godfread says, takes more money out of all our pockets,” the reporter wrote. “So aside from the obvious risk of causing an accident — and increased insurance to the parties involved — everyone else’s premiums also increase, to help pay out the claims.”

Fraud damage lasts decades. “While penalties for insurance fraud are severe … and major fraud can attract seemingly infinite fines and life sentences, pending cases for various types of insurance fraud are still on the rise in the U.S.,” the Pensacola (Fla.) Voice says in an editorial.

“The criminal justice system is yet to deal with the problem effectively when it has occurred, and insurance companies appear unable to stop it from occurring in the first place. The impacts of insurance fraud, then, are likely to last for decades upon decades to come, and ultimately it is the everyday consumer who will pay for them.”

Metrics tell all: Campaign drives people to alertness of auto scams

Public-awareness campaigns can change people’s attitudes, spur them to act — and save insurers good money. For proof positive, look to an effort by Manitoba Public Insurance, which covers autos in Canada.

The campaign’s results suggest the same positive potential for awareness efforts by fraud fighters in the U.S.

The insurer saturated Manitoba with a consumer campaign tagged Fraud: We All Pay. Drivers pay about $50 extra per (Canadian) thanks to cheaters, MPI stressed.

Hotline calls for suspected auto scams spiked 63 percent in 2018. Some 290 calls came in, starting 52 investigations by the insurer’s SIU.

MPI measured the campaign results. Consumers perked up about auto cheating:

  • More than half of Manitobans say they’re more likely to report fraud after seeing campaign ads.
  • At least 50% admit to more awareness of MPI’s hotline.
  • 70% have a higher awareness that auto insurance fraud is a problem.
  • More than 50% say auto insurance fraud is something they hadn’t thought about.

You be the federal judge: lenient or stiff sentence?
Detra Wiley Pate made thousands of bogus Medicare claims worth $1 million. So now she faces federal sentencing. Pate helped her ill parents until they died. She fed the hungry, and gave Christmas gifts to the needy. Should the “good” Pate receive a lighter sentence?

“Or will it be the well-heeled businesses owner who prosecutors say ran a company designed to help patients who needed wheelchairs, but apparently gave them the wrong wheelchairs — intentionally, and for a dirty profit,” the Augusta Chronicle queried.

Both women share one thing in common: They apparently took more then $1 million in taxpayers’ money — your money.”

So how would you rule? Here’s what the federal court did.

Seniors need more protection from fraudsters than just about anybody.

The average victim of elder financial abuse loses about $120,000. One in five seniors over age 65 has been victimized by fraud. They lose a staggering $2.9 billion a year.

This augurs for empowering seniors by staging awareness efforts warning about crimes that target older Americans. Contractors, staged crashes, annuities and life coverage are among the potential insurance crimes seniors should watch for.

One of the nation’s richest sources of senior outreach ideas is the Fraud Watch Network, run by AARP. Whether the scam is insurance, ID theft or something else, AARP is full of bright ideas for showing consumers the dark side of senior scams. Fraud fighters can adapt these approaches in their own outreach efforts.

Popular fraud-awareness days or weeks also are good ways to alert seniors. Groups can join forces to stage anti-fraud events.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is one staging ground. It was held June 15, and will return next year. A toolkit of resources was offered to partners to customize for their own events. Downloadable logos, banners, brochures, fact sheets, proclamations and other material were part of the mix.

All that helped inspire a week-long joint effort by the Maryland Insurance Administration, state AG and many other in-state groups. They termed their awareness event Protect Week, June 11-15.

The Maryland events brought seniors together to learn about inappropriate insurance products, ID theft, tax fraud, sweepstakes cons and other schemes. Town halls, document-shredding events and other get-togethers helped drive home the safety messages.

Tennessee got into the Protect Week action with a single-day event.

Facebook and YouTube are the titan social platforms where adults swap information, news and opinions about crime each day. They’re also where we warn consumers about scams, share cool cases, and talk one-on-one with people about how fraud can be a high-risk ticket to jail.

About seven of 10 U.S. adults (69%) use Facebook and 73% use YouTubesays the respected Pew Research Center.

All the more reason to keep reaching consumers with anti-fraud messages on these social sites.

Yet we also need to reach teens as early as possible. If we do it right, we’ll teach youths that fraud is a dumb life choice as they reach their insurance-buying years.

That’s a smart approach — if we use the right social platforms. Younger people connect on YouTubeInstagram and SnapchatFacebook is gathering dust with a growing majority of teens. Consider:

• 85% of teens say they use YouTube.
• 72% use Instagram.
• 69% use Snapchat.
• Only 51% say they use Facebook.

So for now … these three platforms form a big part of our efforts to tell America’s teens that insurance fraud isn’t worth the risk. Still, never count out Facebook for messaging.