Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mortgage Fraud: A Growing Problem

Mortgage Fraud is a growing problem in the United States and according MortgageDaily.com, reported cases of fraudulent mortgage loans amounted to more than $4 billion in 2007, up from $1.6 billion in 2006. According to many sources including the FBI and Freddie Mac, mortgage fraud is committee for two main reasons: fraud for property and fraud for money.

Fraud for property also known as fraud for housing, generally occurs when a borrower wants to purchase a property they know they cannot afford. Borrowers are often aided by dishonest mortgage industry professionals who submit or encourage the submission of false information about the borrowers employment, income or assets in order to qualify for a loan. Borrowers are often tempted to engage in this type of fraud by a strong desire for home ownership and the belief that no one will check the information. However, lenders detect fraud for housing schemes by thoroughly reviewing and validating documents and keeping diligent records. It is a federal crime to lie in connection with the loan application and these individuals may be at risk of criminal prosecution.

Fraud for profit schemes often involve a group of people who defraud a prospective home buyer or mortgage lender. For example, a dishonest mortgage broker may partner with a loan processor to create a fictitious credit profile, and with an appraiser to inflate the property value. Additionally, "straw borrowers," who falsely represent themselves, may be enticed to participate through the promise of financial gain. Fraud for profit schemes are also attractive to criminal enterprises lured by the opportunity for greater profits, fewer dangers than those commonly associated with violent crime, and reduced sentencing or jail time. Illegal property flipping is the fraud scheme commonly employed.

Common Mortgage Fraud Schemes

From the FBI Financial Crime Report Property Flipping

Property is purchased, falsely appraised at a higher value, and then quickly sold. What makes property illegal is that the appraisal information is fraudulent. The schemes typically involve one or more of the following: fraudulent appraisals, doctored loan documentation, inflating buyer income, etc. Kickbacks to buyers, investors, property/loan brokers, appraisers, title company employees are common in this scheme. A home worth $20,000 may be appraised for $80,000 or higher in this type of scheme.

Silent Second - The buyer of a property borrows the down payment from the seller through the issuance of a non-disclosed second mortgage. The primary lender believes the borrower has invested his own money in the down payment, when in fact, it is borrowed. The second mortgage may not be recorded to further conceal its status from the primary lender.

Nominee Loans/Straw Buyers - The identity of the borrower is concealed through the use of a nominee who allows the borrower to use the nominee's name and credit history to apply for a loan.

Fictitious/Stolen Identity - A fictitious/stolen identity may be used on the loan application. The applicant may be involved in an identity theft scheme: the applicant's name, personal identifying information and credit history are used without the true person's knowledge.

Inflated Appraisals - An appraiser acts in collusion with a borrower and provides a misleading appraisal report to the lender. The report inaccurately states an inflated property value.

Foreclosure Schemes - The perpetrator identifies homeowners who are at risk of defaulting on loans or whose houses are already in foreclosure. Perpetrators mislead the homeowners into believing that they can save their homes in exchange for a transfer of the deed and up-front fees. The perpetrator profits from these schemes by re-mortgaging the property or pocketing fees paid by the homeowner.

Equity Skimming - An investor may use a straw buyer, false income documents, and false credit reports, to obtain a mortgage loan in the straw buyer's name. Subsequent to closing, the straw buyer signs the property over to the investor in a quit claim deed which relinquishes all rights to the property and provides no guaranty to title. The investor does not make any mortgage payments and rents the property until foreclosure takes place several months later.

Air Loans - This is a non-existent property loan where there is usually no collateral. An example of an air loan would be where a broker invents borrowers and properties, establishes accounts for payments, and maintains custodial accounts for escrows. They may set up an office with a bank of telephones, each one used as the employer, appraiser, credit agency, etc., for verification purposes.

Mortgage Fraud Prevention Measures

From the FBI Financial Crime Report

Tips to protect you from becoming a victim of Mortgage Fraud:

Get a referral for real estate and mortgage professionals.

Check the licenses of the industry professionals with state, county, or city regulatory agencies. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. An outrageous promise of extraordinary profit in a short period of time signals a problem. Be wary of strangers and unsolicited contacts, as well as high-pressure sales techniques.

Look at written information to include recent comparable sales in the area, and other documents such as tax assessments to verify the value of the property. Understand what you are signing and agreeing to--If you do not understand, re-read the documents, or seek assistance from an attorney. Make sure the name on your application matches the name on your identification. Review the title history to determine if the property has been sold multiple times within a short period--It could mean that this property has been "flipped" and the value falsely inflated.

Know and understand the terms of your mortgage--Check your information against the information in the loan documents to ensure they are accurate and complete. Never sign any loan documents that contain blanks--This leaves you vulnerable to fraud.

Mortgage Debt Elimination Schemes
Be aware of e-mails or web-based advertisements that promote the elimination of mortgage loans, credit card and other debts while requesting an up-front fee to prepare documents to satisfy the debt. The documents are typically entitled Declaration of Voidance, Bond for Discharge of Debt, Bill of Exchange, Due Bill, Redemption Certificate, or other similar variations. These documents do not achieve what they purport. There is no magic cure-all to relieve you of debts you incurred. Borrowers may end up paying thousands of dollars in fees without the elimination or reduction of any debt.

Foreclosure Fraud Schemes
Perpetrators mislead the homeowners into believing that they can save their homes in exchange for a transfer of the deed, usually in the form of a Quit-Claim Deed, and up-front fees. The perpetrator profits from these schemes by re-mortgaging the property or pocketing fees paid by the homeowner without preventing the foreclosure. The victim suffers the loss of the property as well as the up-front fees. Be aware of offers to "save" homeowners who are at risk of defaulting on loans or whose houses are already in foreclosure. Seek a qualified Credit Counselor or attorney to assist.

Predatory Lending Schemes
Before purchasing a home, research information about prices of homes in the neighborhood. Shop for a lender and compare costs. Beware of lenders who tell you that they are your only chance of getting a loan or owning your own home. Beware of "No Money Down" loans--This is a gimmick used to entice consumers to purchase property that they likely cannot afford or are not qualified to purchase. Be wary of mortgage professional who falsely alter information to qualify the consumer for the loan. Do not let anyone convince you to borrow more money than you can afford to repay. Do not let anyone persuade you into making a false statement such as overstating your income, the source of your down payment, or the nature and length of your employment. Never sign a blank document or a document containing blanks. Read and carefully review all loan documents signed at closing or prior to closing for accuracy, completeness and omissions. Be aware of cost or loan terms at closing that are not what you have agreed to. Do not sign anything you do not understand. Be suspicious if the cost of a home improvement goes up if you accept the contractor's financing. If it sounds too good to be true--it probably is!

Nonprofit Screening Practices

From the National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices

There are a number of people engaged in the nonprofit sector including nonprofits' board of directors, executives, staff members and volunteers. Yet, few are thoroughly screened before taking their positions. This significantly increases the risk of corporate fraud, criminal acts of abuse, neglect and exploitation against the populations they serve and other less serious infractions. A recent National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices conducted by the National Center for Victims of Crimes explores this issue of background screening on volunteers. Through other research and anecdotal information, the information gathered in this survey is also indicative of the background screening practices for both nonprofit employees. The National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices found that "the vast majority of organizations that participated in the survey indicated that they conduct some form of screening on incoming volunteers, but not all organizations that screen do so thoroughly and 12 percent of organizations reported not screening volunteers at all." The majority of organizations represented in the survey at minimum conduct an interview of volunteers while fewer organizations check references and fewer still engage in full background checks.

While many organizations said they engage in some form of volunteer background checks, 1 in 4 organizations working with vulnerable clients do not conduct reference or criminal background checks. This leaves millions of children, seniors, individuals with disabilities, and others vulnerable to potential victimization each year.

Why don't nonprofits screen? Nonprofit leaders cite a variety of reasons for not performing extensive background screening including; not thinking screening is useful, thinking it costs too much, not wishing to offend potential volunteers and others felt the wait time for results were too long. While nonprofit leaders think they do not have time or money to invest in background screening, the reality is not investing in this process could be far more costly in the long term-both to vulnerable clients and to the organization itself.

Non Profit Fiscal Fraud

One recent study* estimates that some 13 percent of the roughly $300 billion given to charity in year 2006 was lost to corporate fraud and embezzlement. Broken down that's about $40 billion a year wasted that would have otherwise supported much needed public services. From this same report and others like it, accountability in nonprofit organizations is coming to the forefront like never before. This report found that "typical theft from a charity was committed by a female employee with no criminal record who earned less than $50,000 a year and had worked for the nonprofit at least three years. The amount she stole was less than $40,000." The report goes on to cite that the most costly cases involved male executives earning $100,000 to $149,000 a year.

As taken directly from the cited report, fraud is defined by Occupational fraud, e.g., a nonprofit employee overcharges his or her employer for travel expenses or steals cash from the bank account

Consumer fraud, e.g., an attendee at a fund raising auction replaces the price tag on an item with the goal of purchasing it at a lower price.

Insurance fraud, e.g., a nonprofit policy holder falsely claims its van or car has been stolen with the goal of collecting the value of the "stolen" vehicle in cash.

Medicare fraud, e.g., a nonprofit healthcare worker "codes" services rendered with the goal of increasing Medicare reimbursement to the organization

A study by J. T. Wells (2005) reports three major types of occupational frauds. The first is misappropriation of assets and occurs when organization's assets are stolen or misused. The second is referred to as corruption and occurs when influence is inappropriately used in an economic transaction. Third, financial statement fraud is the deliberate falsification of an entity's financial statements. Asset misappropriations comprise more than 97 percent of all reported frauds. It was by far the most common among the nonprofit organizations. Prior studies have found that fraud may be easier to commit in a nonprofit organization. It is argued that an atmosphere of trust is assumed particularly in human service organizations. Many nonprofits have difficulty in verifying certain revenue streams, possess weaker internal controls than for-profits and overall there is a lack of business and financial expertise. The reliance on volunteer and often inexperienced boards is one main contributory factor. Some nonprofits in New York State recognize the need for stronger boards of directors and separate auditing committees. A local nonprofit CEO explained,"Boards are looking for more accountability because they know they are fiduciaries and are at risk."

* An Investigation of Fraud in Nonprofit Organizations: Occurrences and Deterrents Accepted for Publication in Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly (NVSQ) By Janet Greenlee, Mary Fischer, Teresa Gordon, and Elizabeth Keating

Non Profit Background Checks

From the National Survey of Nonprofit Volunteer Screening Practices Criminal History

To determine whether a prospective Board member, volunteer or employee has a criminal record, the candidate's name and/or fingerprints are submitted to local, state, or national law enforcement, or to a state or national repository of criminal history record information (either government entities at the state level or private companies that collect and store information nationally).

Criminal records may include data on arrests or convictions. In general, name-based checks are faster and more convenient, but fingerprint-based checks are the most reliable, as they eliminate name mix-ups and the possibility of candidates using aliases to avoid detection of their criminal past.

Sex Offender Registry: All states currently have lists of registered sex offenders, many of which are available online. Organizations can search online sex offender registries, contact state or local law enforcement agencies or connect with private companies to learn whether a candidate is a registered sex offender in a given state.

Child Protective Services and Adult Protective Services: All states have designated entities responsible for the protection of children and vulnerable adults, and these entities (whose official names vary by state) keep records of reports of abuse, investigations, and the outcomes of investigations (i.e., whether the allegation was substantiated by evidence). Candidates' names can be submitted to these state authorities to search for founded allegations of abuse. (Allegations that were not substantiated by evidence might not be revealed.) No national repository of this information currently exists; it must be checked state by state.

Credit History: With verification of a legitimate purpose, organizations can set up an account either directly with a credit bureau or with an intermediary entity to submit candidates' names and Social Security numbers for a report of their credit history. This type of check requires the candidate's consent and is typically conducted only when a someone will be handling significant sums of money.

Non Profit Fraud Prevention

Some recommendations from the Independent Sector's Panel on the Nonprofit Sector (2005)

Start Accountability at the Board Level: Improving the quality of the board could improve accountability and lessen fraud. Essential tasks may be undertaken by individuals with little financial expertise and no training in the design of appropriate controls against errors or fraud. Without financial expertise at the board level and little, or limited, supervisory capabilities at the operation level, a steady flow of cash donations become a magnet for fraud. Require independent directors to serve on the Board and make sure that someone other than the treasurer reviews financial statements. Do not let the nonprofit's account serve as a member of the Board.

Create an audit committee on the Board to deter or detect financial mismanagement and other fraud within the organization.

Don't just assume an atmosphere or trust--develop strong policies and procedures for fiscal management.

Prohibit personal loans to board members and nonprofit executives.

Management should take a strong response to alleged or suspected fraud.

Conduct extensive background investigations on the Board of Directors, executives, staff and volunteers.

Add accountability by providing orientation to volunteers about thefts and increasing training efforts.

Develop authorization procedures for purchase orders, invoicing, and payments.

Separate the duties of authorizing, purchasing, receiving, shipping, and accounting.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Stalkers and Technology

We use technology everyday and it has great benefits. Most would be lost if they didn't have access to their computers, cell phones and PDAs. However, technology can also bring heightened risks to victims of stalking, especially those dealing with domestic and sexual violence. "The tactics of perpetrators are the same---abusing power to gain and maintain control, but everyday more advanced technologic tools make stalking easier and more effective. The increasingly affordable and available variety of phone, surveillance, and computer technologies provide a wide array of dangerous tools for abusers to use to harass, intimidate, and stalk their current and former intimate partners.

Some abusers install global positioning systems to track their victim's real-time location with extraordinary accuracy, while others use telephones to leave hundreds of messages in a single day. Other stalkers use technologies like Caller ID during a relationship to monitor their partner's calls, and to locate her after she has fled. Still others use online databases, electronic records, and web search engines to locate, track, and harass former partners." (Family Violence Prevention 2005)

Using technology to stalk someone has gone beyond the low-tech methods of viewing the website browser history and intercepting email, and has become increasingly more sophisticated. The following are examples show how technology has made life much more dangerous for stalking victims. The Internet contains a wealth of knowledge about individuals and is being used more and more to gather information. In one recent case, a man impersonated his ex-wife's friend and created a fake Myspace page using the friend's screen name and even photos he downloaded from another social networking site. His wife unaware that this was not her friend granted him access to her private page. Here he gained information about her recent activities, information about her friends and even her updated daily "mood." He used this information to track her whereabouts, show up at events he knew she was attending and harass and threaten her friends.

SpyWare software and hardware for surveillance. Spyware can capture passwords and keystrokes, monitor all sent and received e-mail, record and monitor all chat conversations, and even track every Web page someone visits. The spyware user has access to the victim's passwords, pin numbers, credit card numbers, banking information, and general files. For the average computer user, spyware is difficult to detect. Spyware typically runs in "stealth" mode, which prevents the program from appearing on the list of currently running programs. These programs often disguise themselves as other programs, are difficult to remove, and may even be programmed to reinstall themselves if removed.

Global Positioning Systems are easy to install and even easier to use. A person employing such a device knows as much about a car's recent whereabouts as he would if was in the car himself. This form of stalking is virtual and dramatically lessens the chance of getting caught. Gone are the days of late night checks on the victim's odometer. GPS can be viewed live on the web or cell phone and tells someone exactly where the car has been or in real time where the car is headed.

Stalkers are setting up websites that threaten victims or encourage others to contact, harass, or harm the victim. In one case, an ex-boyfriend set up a web page with photos and intimate details of the victim. The site included every possible way to contact her including her cell and work numbers, home address, work address, mother's address and phone number, e-mail and even included an embedded Google map to her home.

Even older technology poses a risk. This recent example is from Family Violence Prevention. A woman fled, but had to send papers to her abusive partner. She faxed the papers from the shelter fax machine to her attorney. Her attorney faxed the papers to his attorney. His attorney gave the papers to him. Since no one removed the fax header, the abuser acquired the phone number and location of his partner and she had to relocate again. These are just a few examples of how technology affects stalking victims every day but they are also reminders that while technology is great there is a downside and becoming aware of the information is often very critical to our safety and well being.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Indicators of Possible Child Abuse

Indicators of Possible Child Abuse

How can we ever stop child abuse if we don’t understand how children that have been abused present? The following is a short list of indicators. Please understand that indictors in each category may pertain to more than one type of abuse or neglect. For example, “lack of concentration” could be a sign of sexual abuse, as well as emotional abuse. Also understand that these indictors by no means conclusively prove that a child has been abused. They are merely a guide of what child abuse could look like and indicators tend to happen in clusters with many being seen at the same time.

1. Unexplained burns, cuts, bruises, or welts
2. Bite marks
3. Anti-social behavior
4. Problems in school
5. Fear of adults

1. Apathy
2. Depression
3. Hostility or stress
4. Lack of concentration
5. Eating disorders

1. Inappropriate interest or knowledge of sexual acts
2. Nightmares and bed wetting
3. Drastic changes in appetite
4. Over-compliance or excessive aggression
5. Fear of a particular person or family member
6. Abrupt change in personality

1. Unsuitable clothing for weather
2. Dirty or unwashed
3. Extreme hunger
4. Apparent lack of supervision
5. Persistent lice
6. Medical needs not being addressed

If a child tells you about their abuse

1. Be approachable- ready to talk and listen

2. Always remain calm- may reaffirm child’s fears if you appear upset or angry
3. Reassure them you are glad they told you
4. Don’t make any promises
5. Don’t keep it a secret
6. Seek the appropriate help immediately and don’t investigate yourself
7. Call Local Law Enforcement or 1-800-96-Abuse

How to Reinforce Personal Safety at Home

1. Always be approachable, let kids know they can always come to you with problems or questions

2. List trusted adults they can talk to
3. Use appropriate correct names for body parts
4. Have touching rules in your family
5. Watch videos or read books about personal safety
6. Role play “ what if “ situations
7. Let them know that it is ok to say no to an adult who wants to touch their private parts
8. Let them know they have a right in who touches them
9. Never force a child to be affectionate with you or others – it sends a confusing message

Child Abuse costs US $258 Million each day!

Child Abuse Costs You

Child abuse is not only a social issue it’s an economic one too. In a first ever landmark report completed by Prevent Child Abuse funded by the Edna McConnell Clark Foundation estimates that the United States spends $258 million each day as a direct or indirect result of the abuse and neglect of our nation’s children. The estimate includes the direct costs associated with child abuse intervention and treatment for the medical and emotional problems suffered by abused and neglected children, as well as the indirect costs associated with the long-term consequences of abuse and neglect to both the individual and society at large. The study estimates that the annual costs are equivalent to $1,461.66 per U.S. family.

“Studies have shown for years that abused and neglected children are less likely to be school-ready and more likely to exhibit behavior disorders, to become teen parents and juvenile criminals, and to abuse alcohol and drugs. These consequences can become more pronounced as abused or neglected children grow into adulthood, making them more likely to become adult criminals and to develop chronic illnesses.” The long-term effects of child abuse are taking a staggering toll on families emotionally, psychologically and financially.

Total Daily Cost of Child Abuse & Neglect in the United States

Direct Costs Estimated Daily Cost

Health Care System
Hospitalization $17,001,082
Chronic Health Problems $8,186,185
Mental Health Care System $1,164,686
Child Welfare System $39,452,054
Law Enforcement $67,698
Judicial System $934,725
Total Direct Costs $66,806,430

Indirect Costs

Special Education $612,624
Mental Health and Health Care $12,678,455
Juvenile Delinquency $24,124,086
Lost Productivity to Society $1,797,260
Adult Criminality $151,726,027
Total Indirect Costs $190,938,452
TOTAL COST $257,744,882

Data courtesy of Prevent Child Abuse America Note: The statistical data used to compile this chart is available on the Prevent Child Abuse web site, www.preventchildabuse.org

What is Child Abuse?

Our Nation’s Children at Risk

A child abuse report is made every 10 seconds in the United States and that totals to 3 million reports made each year. Experts agree that the number of actual child abuse cases in the US is roughly three times the number being reported. Child abuse occurs at all socio-economic levels, across all ethnic and cultural, religious and educational levels. Nearly 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 5 boys will be the victim of child abuse prior to their 18th birthday. Most believe this is something that only happens to other people but as one expert said “to others you are the other person.”

What is Child Abuse?

Although there are many formal and acceptable definitions of child abuse, the following is offered as a guide. Child abuse consists of any act that endangers or impairs a child's physical or emotional health and development. Child abuse includes any damage done to a child which cannot be reasonably explained and which is often represented by an injury or series of injuries appearing to be non-accidental in nature.

Major forms of child abuse
Physical abuse - Any non-accidental injury to a child. This includes hitting, kicking, slapping, shaking, burning, pinching, hair pulling, biting, choking, throwing, shoving, whipping, and paddling.

Sexual abuse - Any sexual act between an adult and child. May also occur between children. This includes fondling, oral sex, intercourse, exploitation, pornography, exhibitionism, child prostitution, or forced observation of sexual acts.

Neglect - Failure to provide for a child's physical needs. This includes lack of supervision, inappropriate housing or shelter, inadequate provision of food, inappropriate clothing for season or weather, abandonment, denial of medical care, and inadequate hygiene.

Emotional abuse - Any attitude or behavior which interferes with a child's mental health or social development. This includes yelling, screaming, name-calling, shaming, negative comparisons to others, telling them they are "bad, no good, worthless" or "a mistake". It also includes the failure to provide the affection and support necessary for the development of a child's emotional, social, physical and intellectual well-being.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Human Trafficking in the US

When one thinks of human trafficking, the act of moving a person or persons from one place to another through coercion, fraud, deception or force for the purpose of labor or more commonly the sex trade, most have visions of Thailand or Mexico. Human trafficking is more common than most people realize inside the United States. The United States is principally viewed as a transit and destination country for trafficking and it is estimated that 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked to the U.S. annually. Less talked about is the number of US citizens particularly children and teens trafficked within the U.S. each year.

The FBI estimates that there are well over 100,000 children and teens in the United States most of them young girls being trafficked in the sex trade. They range in age from 9 to 19, with the average age being 11. Cases of human trafficking have been reported in all 50 states, Washington D.C. and some U.S. territories.

Experts say many victims are from what would be considered "good" families, who are lured and coerced by experienced predators. Victims are no longer just runaways and children that have been abandoned. They are young girls, from good families that are lured into unwilling prostitution with promises of work, money, clothing and fame in modeling and acting. These predators know where children are, seek out their vulnerabilities and exploit them. Teens are lured and coerced and often physically assaulted and threatened with violence and even death for them and/or their family. In order to rescue these children from the streets, first they must be identified.

Identifying a Victim of Human Trafficking
(From US Department of State)

A victim:

Has unexplained absences from school for a period of time, and is therefore a truant
Demonstrates an inability to attend school on a regular basis
Chronically runs away from home
Makes references to frequent travel to other cities
Exhibits bruises or other physical trauma, withdrawn behavior, depression, or fear
Lacks control over her or his schedule or identification documents
Is hungry-malnourished or inappropriately dressed (based on weather conditions or surroundings)
Shows signs of drug addiction
Demonstrates a sudden change in attire, behavior, or material possessions (e.g., has expensive items)
Makes references to sexual situations that are beyond age-specific norms
Has a "boyfriend" who is noticeably older (10+ years)
Makes references to terminology of the commercial sex industry that are beyond age-specific norms; engages in promiscuous behavior and may be labeled "fast" by peers

Resources and Publications on Human Trafficking

One of the best ways to help combat human trafficking is to raise awareness and learn more about how to identify victims. Information on human trafficking can be found on the following Web sites:

U.S. Department of State, Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Missing Persons

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Campaign to Rescue and Restore Victims of Human Trafficking

U.S. Department of Justice

Federal Bureau of Investigation, Investigative Programs, Crimes Against Children

National Center for Missing and Exploited Children

Polaris Project

First Steps to find the Missing

According to the Dept of Justice, there are roughly 110,282 active missing person cases on record for 2006. Children under the age of 18 account for 53 % of the records and 11% were for young adults between the ages of 18 and 20.

People go missing for a variety of reasons and many are found or return on their own. Roughly 10% are never seen or heard from again. If you find yourself in a situation where a loved one, friend or collegue is missing and you suspect something is not right please see the list below.
Take care of yourself You are the vital link to your loved one. You are the one who can motivate others to keep searching.

Contact local law enforcementSome
law enforcement agencies are reluctant to take a report of a missing adult. Stress that you are concerned for his or her safety.

Get Help from Others
People want to help but they often don't know what to do. Give them tasks – don’t wait for them to ask. They can help with phone calls, completing forms, mailing flyers, reaching out to the media, making certain you take care of yourself, etc.

Collect personal items.
Collect some articles of unwashed clothing. Put his/her toothbrush and/or comb or hairbrush in a brown paper bag. Check with the police before you do this. Some states have enacted laws that require police do this collection from all reported missing person, regardless of age of the missing.

Keep a telephone log
Keep track of how you talk to, from what agency they are from and what the call was about. Remember to write down the time and date as well. This will help to keep things straight and have an on-going list of contacts.

Collect recent photos to be used to make flyers. Full frontal photos are more desirable.
Flyers do help. It’s helpful to use a candid natural photo rather than a posed shot. This will assist people in recognizing your loved one. Make certain that these flyers are posted in the types of areas and retail establishments that your loved one would frequent
Provide bus/train stations with a flyer or picture of your child. Bus stations don’t usually keep track of the names of people on busses but employees may recognize a picture or a description.

Contact the Media
Although TV seldom features missing adults, it is sometimes possible to find a sympathetic columnist with a newspaper who will cover the story and print a photo. Designate a spokesperson that can speak to the media and develop a press kit with relevant information.

Stick to the facts
Keep the reporters to the facts. Don’t be swayed by leading questions. Disregard their speculation or unfounded rumors. You will carry more credibility if you simply stick to the facts.
Hold awareness eventsMedia attention will generate leads. Volunteers can organize many events that will keep the story in the hearts and minds of the public.

Law Enforcement Help for Missing Adults

Some law enforcement agencies are reluctant to take a report of a missing adult. Stress that you are concerned for his or her safety. The following will help you work with law enforcement more effectively to find the missing person.

• Write down the name of the officer who takes the report as well as the badge number, telephone number and the police report number.

• Keep a notebook and record all information on the investigation.

• See if the person can be entered into NCIC (National Crime Information Computer). The person must be entered here or other law enforcement agencies won’t know that your child has been reported as missing if the child is picked up or a check has been run on them for something else.

• Make fingerprint and dental records available to the police.

• Have the cell phone number of the missing individual tracked for last record of activity. If the cell phone has GPS capabilities, this is even better.

• If there are medical or emotional concerns, make sure they are clearly stated when filing the report.

• If a vehicle is involved, make sure the license is also entered into NCIC

• Most often with an adult missing, the families do the majority of the searching.

• Don’t cancel a bankcard or credit card. It might be smarter to have law enforcement “flag” these cards so that if used, they will be notified, and might lead you to a paper trail of your loved one or someone who knows where your loved one is.

Team Work
Establish a teamwork approach with law enforcement. Cooperation with them is essential. You can also expect law enforcement to ask some hard and difficult questions. Do not take this personally. Respond as best you can and try to remember as many details as you can. Remember; keep your focus on the missing person.

Law Enforcement Contacts
Establish or have law enforcement establish a contact person within your local law enforcement agency so you are consistently and accurately informed of on-going developments in your case. Understand that at times, law enforcement many not be able to share all aspects of the investigation with you.

Seek more help.
Set up a command center for volunteers to help with searching and to hold awareness events. Keeping the story in the media will help with exposure and generating leads. Seek outside help with licensed private investigators who might be willing to look into the situation. Sometimes they are able to generate leads law enforcement cannot.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

A Matter of Life or Death

A Matter of Life or Death

Sometimes a criminal defense investigation is literally a matter of life or death. According to the National Institute of Justice, 5-10% of the US prison population is factually innocent of the crimes in which they have been convicted. That translates to over 200,000 innocent people that are in prison today and many sitting on death row. Of those innocent people 90% plead guilty.

The Innocence Project, a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing, has exonerated 212 people to date. There have been 23 cases in New York State alone.

On November 2, 2006, after serving 15.5 years of a 15-Life sentence Jeff Deskovic's indictment charging him with murder, rape, and possession of a weapon was dismissed on the grounds of actual innocence. Post-conviction DNA testing both proved Deskovic's innocence and identified the real perpetrator of a 1989 murder and rape. A number of factors lead to the wrongful conviction of Deskovic including government misconduct and a coerced confession. DNA testing was conducted before trial. The results showed that Deskovic was not the source of semen in the rape kit. Deskovic had been told before the alleged confession that if his DNA did not match the semen in the rape kit, he would be cleared as a suspect. Instead, prosecution continued on the strength of his alleged confession. (as told on the Innocence Project website)

A handful of factors seem to play the most prominent role in wrongful convictions with mistaken identifications being the lead contributing factor. Mistaken eyewitness identifications contributed to over 75% of the more than 212 wrongful convictions in the United States overturned by post-conviction DNA evidence. Inaccurate eyewitness identifications can confound investigations from the earliest stages. Critical time is lost while police are distracted from the real perpetrator, focusing instead on building the case against an innocent person. Law enforcement all over the country has been found to engage in the following actions that have contributed directly to wrongful convictions: tunnel vision—making a snap decision about who the guilty part is and investigating with bias towards that individual to the exclusion of all others even in the face of hard evidence; the use of trickery and deceit to manipulate or coerce a confession; scouring jails for snitches willing to frame suspects; evidence tampering and even witness intimidation.

Other factors that have contributed to wrongful convictions include: unreliable or limited science at the time of the crime, forensic science misconduct, misuse of informants and prosecutorial misconduct. The use of professional investigators in the criminal defense investigation process significantly impacts the outcome of a criminal case. Many large law offices have in-house investigators, but unfortunately, defendants can not pay the high costs involved with retaining large firms, leaving them with “the best attorney they could afford.” Smaller firms rarely use investigators, leaving a critical part in the chain of justice broken.
The National Legal Aid Defenders Association recommends an investigation be conducted in every case, even those where a guilty plea has been entered. This can significantly decrease the odds of wrongful convictions and bring to light many of the mitigating factors that lead to wrongful convictions prior to the damage being done.

Friday, February 1, 2008

The Many Faces of Insurance Fraud

The Many Faces of Insurance Fraud
Examples from the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud

Staged Auto Accidents. Juan and Maria Lopez and their 2-year-old daughter Joanna were burned alive during an auto accident two men staged on the Long Beach (Calif.) freeway to collect insurance money in 1997. The scammers suddenly stopped in front of a tractor-trailer the Lopezes were following. A gravel truck then rammed the Lopezes from behind, killing the young family instantly. Isidorio Medina Gomez and Esteban Galves Solano each received 11 years in state prison in 1998.

Arson. Helen Tidwell hired two local teenagers to torch her Tampa restaurant, Gram's Country Kitchen, so she could collect insurance money in 1996. But fumes from the gasoline the boys poured in the restaurant accidentally ignited, causing an explosion. One boy died and the other was permanently scarred. Tidwell received 30 years in prison in 1999.

Health Insurance Fraud (corporate). Columbia/HCA Healthcare has agreed to pay at least $754 million after over billing taxpayer-funded Medicare for years. If the deal stands, it will be the largest healthcare fraud settlement in U.S. history. The chain (now named HCA) billed Medicare for unneeded lab tests, improper diagnoses to make patients seem sicker than they were, and disguising un-reimbursable expenses as reimbursable. Criminal charges still are pending.

Health Insurance Fraud (individual). Massachusetts orthopedic surgeon Harold Goodman routinely gave patients potentially harmful X-rays and steroid injections they didn't need so he could falsely bill Medicaid. Goodman spent as few as five minutes with each patient, giving one patient 74 X-rays and 112 steroid injections in less than three years. Goodman received six months in prison in 2000.

Faked Death. Bonnie McCaslin bought 78 life insurance policies on her ex-husband Timothy, who knew nothing about the policies. She then tried to collect $11 million from dozens of life insurance companies by claiming he died in an earthquake in Mexico in 1995. McCaslin received two years in jail in Nebraska, but blames Timothy for not cooperating with her ruse. "He's such a jerk. If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be in here," she told Forbes magazine.

Murder for Insurance. Dina Abdelhaq suffocated her seven-week-old daughter Tara to collect $200,000 in life insurance money to feed her gambling addiction in 1995. Jobless and on welfare, the Illinois resident was deeply in debt from riverboat gambling. Tara died in her crib just two weeks after Abdelhaq took out a life policy on the child. Abdelhaq received 21 years in prison for insurance fraud in 2000.

Insurer Fraud. Thousands of investors, many of them retirees left almost penniless, were financially devastated when National Heritage Life Insurance Co. collapsed in 1995 after being looted of $450 million by company insiders. The insiders lived lavish lifestyles while retirees who invested in the company lost their entire life savings. Four major players were convicted in 1999, and dozens more are charged in America's largest insurer insolvency caused by fraud.

Property Insurance. California software distributor Irwin Bransky had a lot of useless merchandise on his hands. So when the Northridge earthquake struck California in 1994, Bransky ordered employees to jump on the software packages and bend them with their hands to inflate an insurance claim. Bransky filed a $5-million claim, and the insurer paid $840,000 before an employee blew the whistle. Bransky received 51 months in prison in 1998.

Protect Yourself from Staged Auto Accidents

Protect Yourself from Staged Auto Accidents
Information provided by the National Insurance Crime Bureau

"Automobile accident fraud is among the country's most widespread and lucrative fraud crimes, and the Insurance Research Council estimates 24 percent of bodily injury claims resulting from vehicle crashes are fraudulent." From start to finish the entire scene is staged; a staged crash with criminal drivers, paid witnesses near the crash site offering false statements, unethical attorneys representing the criminal drivers, medical providers inflating costs and conjuring up nonexistent injuries and criminals causing self-inflicted injuries prior to the crash. It can all seem real to the unsuspecting victim but it's far from accurate or accidental.

There are steps you can take to decrease your odds of becoming a victim of this crime:

Avoid tailgating and leave plenty of distance between your vehicle and another in case that car suddenly stops
Call the police to an accident scene and obtain a police report with the officer's name, even if the damage is minimal
Carry a disposable camera in your car for documentation of the number of passengers and damage at the accident scene
Avoid people who suddenly appear at an accident scene and try to direct you to unethical attorneys or medical providers
Be wary of physicians who insist you file a personal injury claim after an accident, especially if you have not been hurt.

Visit www.ncib.org to learn more about the 4 type of staged accidents and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim. Call 1-800-TEL-NCIB if you suspect insurance fraud or vehicle theft.

How much is Insurance Fraud Costing You?

How much is Insurance Fraud Costing You?

The answer: $80 billion a year or nearly $950 for each family as projected by the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud. Honest consumers and businesses continue to pay a heavy price for a crime that continues to happen everyday. While money out of pocket is certainly a substantial loss, insurance fraud affects your bottom line in other ways and sometimes with deadly consequences.

Insurance fraud inflates the cost of everything we buy and use due to the higher premiums for health and commercial insurance that are passed onto the consumer. Premiums for auto and homeowners insurance also stay high because insurance companies pass on the larger costs of insurance fraud to policyholders. Businesses lose millions in income annually because fraud increases their costs for employee health coverage and business insurance. People can lose jobs and health coverage when insurance companies go bankrupt due to fraud.

The elderly especially are often at risk for insurance schemes that sell nonexistent health policies or perform poor medical care to illegally inflate health insurance claims. Seniors spend life savings and never receive the medical care they need. Lives are put at risk with staged auto accidents and arson. People sometimes even whole families die because of these deadly acts. Murder is committed and even pets can lose their lives so life insurance money can be collected.

At the end of the day, fraud is everybody's problem but many consumers believe insurance fraud is justified. Tolerance only allows for this crime to continue. According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, "Two of three Americans tolerate insurance fraud to varying degrees; two of five Americans want little or no punishment for insurance cheats; they blame the insurance industry for its fraud problems because they believe insurers are unfair." New York State Alliance Against Insurance Fraud recently took a poll to evaluate New Yorkers attitudes towards insurance fraud and their willingness to commit fraudulent acts. For results of this poll click here.

To do your part to combat this problem; remain honest about your insurance claims and report those you know that are not. Contact the New York State Fraud Bureau to report at 1-888-372-8369. or call the toll-free hotline of the National Insurance Crime Bureau 1-800-835-6422