Estimados Compañeros Floridanos:
Fraud is a topic that I frequently talk about — with you, with lawmakers, and with the insurance companies that are greatly impacted by acts of fraud in our state.
As I’ve shared before, fraud takes on many forms. From acts of insurance fraud like staged accidents done to collect unjustified insurance benefits to the outright theft of public assistance benefits, the tools and tactics of scam artists are broad and ever-changing.
One type of fraud that isn’t discussed as readily as others is arson. Primarily done for one of two reasons, either to collect insurance benefits or to cover up a larger crime, arson is a financial crime.
To help raise awareness about this costly crime, the United States Fire Administration hosts Arson Awareness Week each May. Focusing on a different arson-related topic each year, the 2016 theme highlights the growing trend of wildland fires. Their goal is to "spread the facts, not the fire," and they report that between 2010-2014, nearly 25 percent of all wildland fires reported in our country were ruled as arson.
Since 1973, our office has investigated acts of arson in Florida. We review cases of fires that are suspected to have been intentionally set — car fires, school fires, home fires, etc. Just in 2015, our office received more than 3,400 requests for case assistance from law enforcement partners across Florida. In total, those fires represented nearly $179 million in direct damages, and, of that total, more than $16 million was tied to acts of arson. More than 500 defendants were arrested that year and charged with the crime of arson.
We are not alone in our efforts. Commissioner Adam Putnam’s Florida Forest Service works alongside our team to put a halt to this costly crime, and we work directly with their office when we suspect that a wildland fire was intentionally set. This year’s theme speaks directly to their work, and they report that so far this year, 6,300 acres in Florida have burned because of 143 arson wildland fires.
Our collective message is simple: if you see something, say something. Never put yourself or others in danger by approaching a suspect, but call 911 immediately and take note of as many details as you can, including vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers.
To report a suspicious fire — wildland or otherwise — please contact our Arson Tip Hotline at 1-877-662-7766. We will notify Commissioner Putnam’s Office if the fire is of wildland, and we will work together to hold those responsible accountable for their crimes.
All 20 million Floridians can surely agree on one thing: Florida is a beautiful state, and we must all do our part to keep it that way. We hope to hear from you if you ever find yourself in such a situation.
Oficial Principal de Finanzas
Estado de la Florida