June 19, 2006

Debt-weary SUV owners torching their vehicles for insurance value

Santa Monica, California – Some SUV owners faced with rising gas prices have been setting their vehicles on fire to get out from their car payments, says a report from Edmunds.com.The trend was spotted by a Southern California arson task force in the Summer of 2005 when gas prices spiked.

Investigators found an arson-for-hire ring involving a new-car dealership in Cerritos, California; SUV owners contacting the finance manager and hoping to trade their vehicles for cheaper ones were put in touch with an arsonist. The owners were told to leave the keys and US$300 in the vehicle; the arsonist took the vehicles to remote locations and set them on fire, whereupon the owners contacted their insurance companies and reported them stolen.

Police uncovered the operation using a vehicle fitted with a videotape device; eight people were arrested in conjunction with the arson ring. The U.S. Fire Administration reports that nearly 20 per cent of all arsons occur in vehicles, and arson is the second-highest cause of vehicle fires.

Connect with Autos.ca