Vehicle owners behind in their payments and faced with mounting debts have begun taking matches to their cars and trucks in an effort to stop their payments and collect the insurance settlements. Unfortunately, in most cases the attempts backfire (pun intended). According to police, when delinquencies on auto loans rise, owner-involved arson jumps as well. Between 2004 and 2007, "potential owner give-ups" (most of which involve torched vehicles) nearly doubled nationally. Distinguishing between an actual theft-and-burn and an owner-induced arson is the job of investigators who often find such cases easy to crack.

For example, recently a pair of Chrysler Pacificas were burned and it just so happens that that particular model was only reported stolen 98 times across the nation this year – the so-called "theft" raised more than a few eyebrows at headquarters. In another case, a Yukon owner claimed his truck was stolen and burned overnight. Police knew that the thief likely had the keys (Yukons are especially difficult to hot-wire) so their focus was immediately turned towards the owner who had conveniently left "two cans of gasoline" in the back. In yet another case, the late-paying owners had significantly lowered their deductible just days before the reported theft.

Over their heads in debt, fraudulent owners choose arson because the burned-out vehicle shells are often found immediately by authorities, and the insurance companies settle and disburse payments quickly. That is, assuming they haven't fallen behind on their insurance bills as well! Thanks for the tip, Ben!

[Source: Washington Post, photo by Maryland State Fire Marshall]