According to the FBI’s finding, insurance fraud costs the average U.S. family between $400 and $700 per year in increased premiums.
What is it about scams and elaborate fraud we find so intriguing? Even the most law-abiding citizens will hang onto the juiciest details of stories about fraudulent behavior. And, lest you think the general public might be above such low-brow entertainment, consider all the screen and air time dedicated to insurance scams.
Countless movie scenes depict the protagonist contemplating illegal schemes, combing through insurance policies and stolen property coverage, and even setting plans in motion to make a fraudulent claim.
Whatever our reason for being intrigued by stories of swindlers, Hollywood has certainly delivered over the years. Life insurance policies might get most of the glory, but here’s a look at a few movies, TV shows, and even songs featuring home insurance scams and the aftermath.
Burning Down the House
In this dark 2001 comedy, hapless movie director Jake (John Savage) and his business partner Arnie (James Wilder) hatch a plan to fund a new film. The scheme they cook up? Setting fire to Jake’s home and using the insurance money to bankroll the movie. Maybe audiences and critics didn’t appreciate the elaborate and definitely illegal scam, as this picture’s ho-hum ratings leave a lot to be desired.
Real-life is often just as captivating as fiction. In a 2017 episode of the true-crime show American Greed, Mark Leonard’s elaborate scam is featured. He and his girlfriend blew up their Indianapolis home in 2012 in hopes of collecting $300,000 in insurance money. Unfortunately for the pair, their scheme destroyed hundreds of nearby homes and cost two neighbors their lives. Leonard and three others involved found prison time instead of an easy payout.
The Adventures of Shirley Holmes
In this Canadian kids’ tv show from the late ‘90s, Shirley Holmes is the great-grandniece of Sherlock Holmes and follows in his footsteps by piecing together clues and solving perplexing mysteries.
In one particular episode, her amateur sleuthing leads her to Ned Crawford, who is arrested for insurance fraud when a jewel he reported stolen is found in his home. Of course, things aren’t always as they seem, and Shirley gets to work to determine whether Ned is truly the scammer he seems to be.
In the episode “Homer The Heretic,” Homer attempts to exaggerate the value of his losses after his house burns down. He reports the supposed valuables (a Picasso and his classic car collection, to name a few) he lost to his insurance agent, who informs him the insurance policy only covers actual losses, not a wish-list. Annoyed his scam was foiled, we hear his irked retort: “Well that’s just great!”
While the audience laughs at Homer’s idiotic attempt, such overestimation is a practice insurance claims agents are all too familiar with in the real world.
In a particular episode of the classic crime drama TV show, a woman’s house was burglarized by a small-time petty thief. She decides to capitalize on this opportunity to say her jade collection has also been stolen. Unbeknownst to the detectives (at first), she’d previously sold the collection and was aiming to fraudulently collect the insurance money. While it might not be as bad as impersonating a cop, this is definitely a scam that’ll deserve some jail time.
Back to the Future
This one requires a little help from the imagination, but some movie trivia buffs assert that in Back to the Future, there’s no other explanation for a peculiar incident than home insurance fraud. At the beginning of the film, a headline from a framed newspaper clipping details the fire that burned down the Brown mansion.
As some audience members purport, Doc Brown must have burned down his mansion to collect the insurance money and finance the building of the DeLorean. Whether the zany, beloved inventor is guilty, movie-goers are left to puzzle over, but undoubtedly this incident would lead to an investigation in real life.
Interestingly, Doc Brown’s character continues his suspect behavior as the franchise develops. For example, his love interest from Part III, Clara, might’ve been wise to read up on romantic scams and how to avoid them.
In this Disney Pixar classic, we see a different kind of insurance scam. Mr. Incredible assumes a different identity, not as a proponent of identity theft scams, but as a part of a witness protection program, and takes up work as an insurance claims specialist named Bob Parr.
The fraudulent insurance behavior we see doesn’t come from clients, but from Mr. Incredible’s diminutive, curmudgeon-of-a-boss, Gilbert Huph. With profits clouding his vision, Mr. Huph is obsessed with doing whatever it takes to scam clients out of their insurance money. From little old ladies to theft victims right outside his office, Mr. Huph has no qualms with withholding the help his clients need.
“The Cigar Song”
Though it’s not a movie, Brad Paisley’s “The Cigar Song” tells an outlandish story of home insurance fraud. Paisley sings from the point of view of a man with an affinity for Cuban cigars. The man decides to insure a case of cigars, and then smokes all of them in hopes of cashing in on the insurance policy.
As the lyrics recount, the insurance company reviews the case, and then (inexplicably) decides it has no choice but to pay the claim. At the end of Paisley’s tale, an investigation results in the smoker being thrown in jail for “24 separate counts of arson.” If the story were true, insurance fraud would definitely be tacked on to that sentence.
Whether it’s arson, a faked burglary, stolen cars, or inflation of items lost, it’s apparent there’s something audiences find intriguing about insurance scams.
While we might find them entertaining on the screen or radio, it’s important to note that scammers affect the rest of us. According to the FBI’s finding, insurance fraud costs the average U.S. family between $400 and $700 per year in increased premiums. Let’s leave the scamming up to Hollywood depictions, and continue our crime watching obsession safely from the couch!