Arson for profit is a form of insurance fraud that involves deliberately and intentionally setting fires for monetary gain (U.S. Fire Administration, 2009). Also called economic arson, arson for profit occurs when businesses or individuals deliberately set fires in order to dispose of insured property, including buildings, automobiles, boats, and land, and reap financial benefits by filing insurance claims against the property (U.S. Fire Administration, 2009). Arson for profit is a serious crime, resulting in destroyed property, higher insurance premiums, wasted government resources, and even death (Goetz, 1997; U.S. Fire Administration, 2009). The following paper will explore this form of white collar crime by examining the motives and methods for arson for profit as well as the economic toll of this criminal activity in the United States.
The Scope and Severity of Arson for Profit
Given the amount of data available on arson for profit, it is reasonable to assert that this form of white collar crime does not cause the same level of concern as street crime in the general public or government agencies. This attitude is further illustrated in the investigation and prosecution of arson for profit; while arson for profit accounts for between 20 and 30 percent of all arsons, it makes up only three to four percent of all arson arrests (Rider, 1980). This lack of concern, coupled with a common but incorrect belief that white collar crime is less dangerous than street crime, has helped arson-for-profit become a very lucrative and dangerous crime in the United States (Goetz, 1997).
During a Senate hearing, Senator Sam Nunn stated that arson for profit is “the fastest growing crime in this country” (Rider, 1980). However, little resources have been devoted to tracking white-collar crime; thus, Senator Nunn’s statement may be fact or pure speculation. The available data, however, does show that arson is the leading cause of property loss. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), there were approximately 323,900 reported cases of arson in 2005 (U.S. Fire Administration, 2009). These arsons resulted in 493 deaths, including three firefighters, 1,500 civilian injuries, and the injury of 7,600 firefighters, as well over $1.1 billion in property damage (U.S. Fire Administration, 2009).
While arson is defined as the intentional and malicious setting of fire to a building, land, a vehicle, or other property with the intent to cause damage, arson for profit is the intentional and malicious setting of fire for financial again, often with the intent to commit insurance fraud (U.S. Fire Administration, 2009. The scope of arson for profit ranges from individuals using arson to escape an unwanted car loan to business ventures that buy property for the sole purpose of burning them to collect the insurance (U.S. Fire Administration, 2009). The end results of these types of insurance scams can generate over one billion in annual...