Underwriting Against Arson
By Robert A. Corry
American Re-Insurance Company
I. Property Underwriting; The Property Insurance Industry's Gatekeeper
Tickets - Accidents - DWI's
Any car - any driver - under 25 too!!
No Assigned Risk!*
$100 or more!!
Call: 758 - XXXX
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XXXXXXXXXXXX Insurance Company
Address in New York State
This "flyer" soliciting applicants for motor vehicle insurance
is real. We omitted the company's name, telephone number & address.
The point is obvious.
No professional property underwriter would place his company's coverage
on a risk that had a high probability of being intentionally, or negligently,
burned down. Unfortunately, every day in the United States there are enormous
insurance losses due to fires that could have been prevented if only the
property insurers knew about, and acted on, the applicant's claim history
or the conditions of the risk.
1. About Fire & Arson
An insurance underwriter's principal job is to screen incoming new business
and renewals, admitting good risks and denying or placing conditions and
warrantees on poor risks. Given this, there are several major things that
property insurers and property underwriters need to understand about fire
- First, costs of insurance losses from fire far exceed losses from all
other categories of "natural" catastrophes combined.
- Second, arson is the largest cause of fire losses in non-residential
commercial buildings and is the third largest cause of residential fires.
- Third, insurance industry experts and national fire incident data agree
on one point; one in every four fires in the United States today is intentionally
- Finally, approximately eighty-four of every one hundred confirmed cases
of arson today go unsolved and only two percent of arson cases result in
the offender's conviction for the crime of arson.
Eighty-four of one hundred arson cases go unsolved.
Two persons are convicted for one hundred known arson cases.
Every property underwriter should clearly recognize that
if a criminally inclined or negligent applicant is let through the door,
odds are that your company can neither prevent a fire loss nor defend itself
from the fraudulent arson claim.
These disturbing facts about arson investigation are among the principle
reasons interFIRE was created and underscore why effective underwriting
practices are critical for the protection of property insurance companies.
This section of interFIRE focuses attention on the process of property
underwriting against fire, and especially against arson losses. The information
contained here was derived from underwriting training manuals and publications
and from in-depth interviews of career property underwriters with ten or
more years underwriting experience for primary carriers.
During our interviews we sought advice and information on the "best
practices" in property underwriting today and the kind of wisdom that
comes from perfect "20/20" hindsight about fire and arson losses.
Our objectives during the interviews were to learn:
- How well-informed property underwriting decisions are made concerning
- The pros & cons of information sources that underwriters rely on
daily to make decisions on extending, renewing or denying coverage,
- Common "red-flag" symptoms that property underwriters need
to routinely screen for in the background, character & financial affairs
of arson prone individuals & businesses,
- Recommendations for cost and time-effective information resources that
can help a property underwriter verify information contained in an application
and disclose problems with an applicant's background, solvency and insurability.
- Begin a discussion about whether it would be good business for property
carriers to adopt a screening process within their underwriting unit where
questionable renewals and new applicants with "red flag/' issues could
be referred for additional scrutiny by a specially trained underwriter
or technician with access to advanced industry and public records databases.
- Begin a discussion about whether effective property underwriting practices
can measurably add to their company's bottom-line success by writing good
risks and denying coverage to criminals and others who are arson or fire
2. Property Underwriting, Fire Safety and Arson Prevention
Very few people in our society today are in a better position to influence
fire safety and arson prevention than a skilled property insurance underwriter.
For reasons explained here, the underwriter is virtually the only "player"
in our system that can influence enforcement of fire and arson prevention
measures on a daily basis in commercial and in residential risks.
Each community, through its local and state statutes and regulations,
has an apparent capability to promote fire and arson prevention. This is
obstensively accomplished through enforcement of basic fire prevention,
building and sanitary codes especially with public buildings and publicly
licensed commercial establishments.
In reality, civil code enforcement and fire prevention units are notoriously
undermanned in most communities and typically get the "back burner"
treatment from the courts. Sensible enforcement of even the most basic sanitary,
utility or building codes is lax to nonexistent once the "Certificate
of Occupancy" is issued in residences and smaller businesses where
most of the fires occur.
One exception to this rule is after a fire has damaged or
killed. At that point the construction and design of the building &
its contents are often cited as "causal" or "contributory"
factors. When this happens manufacturers, distributors or maintenance personnel,
along with their insurance carriers, often become involved in litigation.
Certain professions and skilled trades dealing with the architecture,
fire safety engineering, design and manufacture of construction, finishing
materials, furniture and appliances, wiring, heating and ventilation systems
and conveyances play important roles in protecting Americans in their homes,
employment and transportation.
Many structural, utility and appliance designs that have stood the test
of time are safe if used within reasonable limits given intended design
and maintenance. In the real world, it is an everyday reality that end users
of buildings and products too frequently create their own risk of fire loss
by nullifying built-in safety features, by poor housekeeping & inadequate
security, by disabling or failing to maintain smoke detection and fire suppression
systems, or by irresponsibly running electrical or mechanical appliances
past their safe life span.
Because most public safety inspectors can have limited impact on problems
affecting day to day fire safety, the property insurance carrier is in an
extremely influential position to promote fire safety and arson prevention
when it simply acts to protect its own interest.
Risk of fire & arson is dramatically reduced when basic security
measures such as adequate fencing, locks, lighting and fire and intrusion
detection systems are required and reasonable minimum housekeeping, storage
and maintenance standards are enforced.
3. A Majority of Insured Fire/Arson Losses
In too many arson cases today a conversation between a fire investigator
and the property underwriter at the fire loss scene would begin with the
question "What were you thinking to put insurance on that place or/insure
anything for that particular person?"
Neither professional would disagree that, on closer look at many insured
losses, the question was seldom "Will a fire occur here?" The
real question to be answered was "When will the fire occur here?"
Insurance Loss Case:
The owner of a derelict barn that had housed a seed plant operation a
decade earlier had been seeking a demolition contractor until his local
insurance agent suggested an increase in fire coverage from $71,000 to $460,000
with no betterment or plan for usage. Three days after the policy was issued
the barn went to the ground. The cause was arson.
4. Underwriting; Acquire, Evaluate, Act, Monitor
How each individual underwriter performs his/her important task sets
up their company to operate profitably or suffer from tremendous exposure
& financial losses.
The pressures of a competitive business environment, workload, cost cutting,
less than informative sources of risk information and sometimes even sloppy
workmanship and poor judgment allow too many totally unacceptable risks
to slip by property underwriters and gain insurance coverage every day.
This fact has serious consequences for both property carriers and for society.
While each insurance application on the underwriter's desk is, in some
ways unique, most applications can be grouped into broad categories enabling
the underwriter to apply information from standardized rating indices and
In many arson cases resulting in losses to property carriers, clear warning
signs were present that were either ignored or missed by the underwriter
who placed the business. These warning signs range from financial instability,
a serious criminal background and questionable prior losses to wholesale
disregard of reasonable security and fire prevention measures.
This section of interFIRE alerts property underwriters to the scope of
the American fire/arson problem and identifies major warning signs that
are often associated with a fire or arson prone risk.
In spite of its frequency, arson is seldom considered as an individual
peril. Many underwriters feel that arson, like many other kinds of crime,
is random and difficult to judge as a risk factor.
The truth in too many cases is that "the handwriting was on the
wall" but was missed or ignored.
6. Key Underwriting Clues for Loss Prevention.
The following factors should be considered each time that a fire insurance
applicant or policy renewal is being considered.
- Relationship of trust with the producer - Placing insurance on risks
combines the science of rating exposures with the "art" of developing
a valid "gut" feeling about individuals seeking fire insurance
coverage. The professional judgment and "street smarts" of the
agent/broker is an important link in this process. Ask yourself, has there
been a history of questionable losses from clients referred by this agent/broker
that makes you question their skill, honesty or common sense?
- Loss history - You need to know about each personal lines and commercial
fire insurance applicant's past history of claims activity that may or
may not have been settled. Today, there are underwriting databases that
can provide this information in seconds and at reasonable cost. Information
on these databases along with contact information is contained in this
- Financial condition - Is this business or individual financially strapped?
Is there an impending situation, unknown to you, threatening to drive down
the business or personal finances of the applicant? An inexpensive &
on-line search of public record databases will often reveal evidence of
deteriorated finances such as liens, attachments, suits or additional mortgages
on real property or conditions affecting liquidity such as personal or
business bankruptcy or costly divorce settlements.
- Years in business - Undercapitalized start-up businesses with inexperienced
owner/managers, especially those entering hyper-competitive markets like
small bar-restaurants or pizza stores, are notoriously prone to failure.
Established businesses with sound products and a solid customer base are
obviously less risky.
- Loss Control Report/Engineering Report - A qualified loss prevention
inspector can often spot significant problems affecting the current and
future value of a property. Structural or utility defects affecting the
suitability of a risk for its intended purpose or even intangibles such
as "Quality of Management" issues can have a profound impact
on operations, profitability and risk of fire.
- Quality of Management - A Ford Foundation study on Arson years ago
found that the number of sanitary code violations was the most significant
correlation to whether a given building would sustain an arson fire. "Quality
of Management" is expressed in clean & secure operations, a high
level of maintenance, and other positive factors that, by themselves, tend
to suppress the possibility of fire and crime.
- Implementation of Loss Control Recommendations - Prior to policy renewal,
has the insured implemented each Loss Control recommendation to correct
problems or deficiencies noted in the first or subsequent inspection? Does
the insured resist or ignore reasonable recommendations?
The "Big Ones" - three "red flags" were cited
as the most significant indicators of risk for arson based on underwriting
- Has this insured broken the law in the past?
- What is this insured's financial history?
- What is their prior loss experience?
Screening out overly risky applicants and placing specific covenants,
warrantees and stipulations on coverage extended to marginal applicants
helps to control risk.
But who are the risky applicants?
Property underwriting "red flags"
a. Risky Business: The Insured.
- A criminal?
- Applicant in personal trouble? (Bankruptcy, business or job loss, recent
or pending divorce)
- Questionable or extensive claim history?
- Unresponsive to engineering recommendations?
- A new business in a saturated market?
- Requests an unrealistic amount of coverage?
- Poor risk management habits? Everyone has a key to the front door &
security code to disarm the intrusion detectors?
- No action taken on prior entering without breaking losses?
b. Risky Business: Insurance Application
- Unreferred or out-of-town "walk in" applicant
- Request high limits on marginal property
- Highly leveraged
- No answer or puts "None Known" in prior claims block
- Unsigned property insurance application
c. Risky Business: The Risk
- Vacant buildings or buildings in developments that are "emptying
- Seasonal restaurants or businesses
- Trendy, limited interest businesses
- Environmental law violation sites
- Building status (For Sale, vacant, etc.)
- Lack of "Pride of Ownership" in maintenance of the risk &
other capital stock
- Troubled labor relations
- Inadequate yard/building security system
- Ignitable materials in unsecured locations at, or adjacent to, the
- No sprinklers/fire/intrusion detection system or a system that is inoperable
or poorly maintained
- A fire/intrusion system that can be disabled at the risk location or
where a maintenance contract is allowed to lapse without notification to
the insurance company
- Prior fires of undetermined origin or cause.
- Prior burglaries or malicious damage losses
- Prior arson fires.
- Backed up to heavy dry vegetation or unreasonable forest fire exposure?
- Located on a barrier reef in a hurricane zone?
- Is the risk next to an "at-risk" structure such as a vacant,
d. Risky business: Loss Control Report "Red Flags"
- Poor overall condition
- Area with a high rate of property crimes
- Vacant, unoccupied or under-utilized facility
- Inadequate housekeeping increases hazard.
- Inadequate or inoperative:
- Sprinkler system in disrepair
- No fire protection/alarm system or an inadequate one.
- Inadequate doors/windows or locks.
- Perimeter fencing non-existent or in poor repair.
- Building/Sanitary code violations - The highest correlation predicting
a future arson and any single factor was the number of sanitary code violations.
Ford Foundation study on Arson.
e. Risky Business: Insurance Coverage
- A sudden jump in requested coverage
- Lapse in coverage or cancellation of the previous fire policy.
- Insurance requested is much higher that the insured's investment.
- Premium payment problems.
II. Sources of underwriting information and electronic databases
1. Construction, Occupancy, Protection & Exposure (COPE): Shortcomings
with the usual underwriting data resources.
Adding by Subtracting
The best protection against insured fire & arson losses is to avoid
the problem in the first place. The underwriter armed with enough quality
information on new business or renewals to make an informed decision is
obviously in a better position to protect their company.
Underwriting manuals typically agree on one point - "The best predictor
of the future is the past." This is the true basis of the art and science
of property insurance underwriting.
With these things in mind let's take a look at the pros & cons of
commonly used sources of underwriting information.
- Dun &BradstreetTM(D
& B) - Dun & Bradstreet data sheets provide information about a
particular risk. The information is sometimes gathered by D&B over
the telephone or by mail. The risk is not obligated to provide this information.
The possibility a risk may provide false or misleading information is present.
The reports may become "dated". There may be little or no reliable
information on small or new businesses.
- Insurance Service OfficeTM
(ISO) & Rating Construction ProtectionTM (RCP) Codes
- Class rates are based on factors assumed to be generally present in
all similar occupancies. These rates are average loss costs for a generic
class of occupancy and are not corroborated by an physical inspection of
a premises. These guides address a generalized, homogeneous grouping of
risks or a specific "class" of business.
- Specific rates are those promulgated by ISO inspectors upon a personal
review of the property. Specific rates use as their base cost average loss
cost factors developed by a general occupancy class and modified by conditions
identified at the risk during an actual inspection of operations representative
of average daily operations and hazards.
- To learn more about any particular risk you will need to obtain the
ISO inspection date for that specific location.
- If the Guide is "dated" you may need to request another site
- These guides assume an "average" risk within its class and
may not be suitable for evaluating a specific risk.
- Loss control Manual - This resource provides an overview or generalized
report for an average or acceptable risk within a class of similar risks.
Information from a Loss Control Manual may be a poor fit for any individual
risk. Two widely used Loss Control Manuals are Best Underwriting GuideTM and FC&S BulletinsTM.
- Loss Inspection Report - The quality of insurance company "Loss
Inspection Reports" vary with the expertise of the Loss Control Inspector.
The inspector is the "eyes" of the underwriter. If the inspector
is not competent, or misreads hazards at the risk, the underwriter will
not recognize or identify potential exposure problems. The frequency of
the Loss Inspection Reports varies based on the characteristics of the
risk. In any event you need a competent inspector for that type of risk
or the frequency of the reports will not matter.
2. How can an underwriter learn if the property insurance application
doesn't tell the whole story?
One highly significant advance for underwriting and claims professionals
is the development of advanced insurance industry computerized underwriting,
claims and public record databases.
Today, a trained underwriter with a telephone or standard computer linked
to the Internet can perform perfectly legal research of an applicant's past
claim history or present financial status to verify representations and
to reveal discrepancies and significant problems concealed in the insurance
application or by inadequate information in commonly used underwriting data
3. Types of Databases & Resources of value to property underwriters:
- Insurance Information databases
- Public Record databases & commercially available CD-ROM databases
- The Internet
- Government records
a. Insurance Information Databases (excerpted from interFIRE's
Databases for Fire/Arson Investigation)
The insurance industry has been collecting claims loss data for many
years. Today, most insurers contribute information to one or more property-casualty
organizations that maintain several large insurance loss history databases.
The information contained in these databases is intended for use by underwriters,
claims and SIU personnel in official performance of their different functions.
There are important differences in the extent of prior loss history information
between the major "Underwriting" and "Claims" databases.
The Underwriting database
An "underwriting" database is designed to enable underwriters
to verify representations contained in an application for personal lines
or commercial insurance before the policy is issued for new business or
One major underwriting database vendor (A-PlusTM) contains information
on every single personal lines or commercial claim submitted to them in
the United States over the previous five years whether or not any settlement
was made and regardless of the amount of the claim. This database contains
submissions representing approximately 85% of the property/casualty insurance
industry's loss data.
A second major underwriting database vendor (ChoicePointTM) can provide loss data
for the past five years for approximately 80% of the personal lines property
policies and 95% of the personal lines auto policies submitted to them in
the United States.
Underwriters may query either database for prior loss history by supplying
at least the name and address of the subject. Like any form of database
research the more information provided on the subject the better and more
complete the search results are apt to be.
Personal lines: (A-PlusTM
- Current and any former name (e.g. maiden name) or alias.
- Current and former addresses.
- Social security number.
- Date of birth.
- Policy numbers.
Commercial Lines: (A-PlusTM
- Current/previous business names and addresses.
- DBA (doing business as) names.
- Prior policy numbers.
- The names of one or more business partners.
- The Federal Tax ID number.
- The social security number of one or more owners, partners or corporate
Information contained in the underwriting database falls under the Fair
Credit Reporting Act. As such, results of queries made in the normal course
of underwriting are regarded as having the same level of protection as is
a person's credit history. Information received from the underwriting database
can not be used for claim handling, special investigations or pre-employment
Access to the underwriting database is restricted to insurers who have
contributed a minimum of three to five years of loss data to the database.
There are two major underwriting database vendors; A-PlusTM (www.iso.com)
which currently contains personal lines and commercial claims data and ChoicePointTM (www.choicepointinc.com) that
contains only personal lines claims data.
The Insurance Claim Databases (excerpted from interFIRE's
Electronic Databases for Fire/Arson Investigation)
This section is included to familiarize property underwriters with existing
The major insurance claim database receives claims information from over
1,500 insurance companies as well as 1,000 self-insureds representing 95%
of the applicable premium volume. The difference between claims loss information
in the underwriting database and the claim databases lies in completeness.
Whereas the underwriting database contains information on "every
single claim submitted over the previous five years whether or not any settlement
was made and regardless of the amount of the claim," the information
contained in the claims database is dependent on thresholds set in individual
insurance companies as to what they report. One company may choose to report
all claims made against it where another may report only claims over $5,000
or some other arbitrary threshold.
Traditionally, insurance companies have gathered information and maintained
records on specific types of claims with a significant risk of fraud such
as bodily injury, property losses, worker's compensation and motor vehicle
claims. This information was isolated into databases covering a particular
type of loss i.e. fire claims.
Insurance fraud investigators have long wished for a single, combined
database that would merge all categories of claim information into a single
database to increase efficiency and save time.
The All Claims Database, promises to do just that. That database, called
ISO ClaimSearch, was developed by the Insurance Services Office (ISO) and
combines the AISG injury and property databases with the NICB Vehicle Database.
ISO ClaimSearch combines a number of formerly independent databases. These
i. The Property Insurance Loss register (PILR) - PILR was established
in 1980 to help insurance carriers fight arson and other fraud in property
loss claims. More than 1200 property insurance carriers submit fire/arson,
burglary & theft losses representing over 95% of written premium. Each
year PILR receives more than 2 million new claims and issues 340,000 reports
indicating prior claim "hits" by the same individual or at the
same location. Today, this database includes loss information for all perils
including fire, theft & burglary losses. A PILR query may reveal the
following information about a loss under investigation:
- An insurer's prior claims;
- Duplicate coverage;
- Patterns of claims;
- Mortgages, partners, and other parties to the loss; and
- Potentially fraudulent claims.
ii. The Index System database - contains information on over
65 million bodily injury claim submissions. Each year participating carriers
report an additional 20 million new claims. One in three submissions results
in an outgoing report indicating a match between the claimant and past
bodily injury claims by that same person.
iii. The National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) which contained
65 million auto related claims.
iv. SOS-Plus database - This will connect the end user to loss
history on bodily injury and property loss claims as well as public records
and consumer and commercial information.
Searches across these various lines of insurance claims will be accomplished
through a single query to ISO ClaimSearch. This new database allows insurers
to expedite processing the majority of legitimate claims that are filed
as well as provide data for better benchmarking of claims handling performance.
This new database also makes it easier to detect patterns of fraud when
they exist and to uncover both organized fraud rings and the individual
opportunist. Using this database, it will be possible for an investigator
working in one line of insurance, such as workers compensation, to uncover
connections between the claimant under investigation and a previous auto
claim or arson fire.
A basic fire/arson investigation should, as a matter of routine practice,
include a check of the victim's claim history.
ISO ClaimSearch presently contains over 100 million claims including
personal and commercial property as well as bodily injury claims. It is
the largest database of property/casualty claims information in the United
States. The database is searched on and matching claims information is returned
to the company either electronically or on paper. Twenty million new claims
are filed annually and the database is expected to grow to 200 million claims
within three years.
The database also earmarks claims that have been determined to be "suspicious
or potentially fraudulent" in nature. These claims are regularly reported
to the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB) and are also part of ISO ClaimSearch,.
The property information that is returned can assist the investigator
in determining what that individual's experience is concerning property
The database will provide a 6+ year history of losses including:
- Loss history information on the individual or business.
- Specific past loss history information on the address where the current
loss took place.
- Information on all of the parties to the loss including spouses, lien
holders, banks, mortgage companies & individuals.
- Coverage Information including the carrier involved in the prior loss,
the amount of coverage, the policy number and other important information.
This query helps identify multiple or duplicate coverage's on the same
Matching prior claims
Matching claims in the bodily injury, property and auto areas can also
be important to an investigator. The individual's overall claims experience
can provide valuable insight into a potential financial motive. A determination
of the claims history of the business or individual should be made as early
in the course of the investigation as possible.
How this is done.
Ninety-seven percent of the information that flows into the insurance
databanks is sent electronically. Some individual companies may send up
to 20,000 claims a day. These are filed and indexed in various ways. Information
material is sorted by social security number, address, name, former name,
alias, date of accident, type of injury, location of accident. Also on file
are a claimant's occupation, license number, policy number, doctor or treatment
facility and vehicle identification number
To track multiple claimants the computers are programmed to look for
names exactly or phonetically as well as by different variations such as
in Robert, Robbie and Bob. Streets addresses may be searched in a variety
of ways as in #10 Main, #10 Main St., #10 Main Ave, etc. Databases are set
to red flag addresses from penal facilities as well as from Post Office
2. Public Records Database Services:
The infamous "Paper Chase" seeking information on property,
probate and vital records used to involve physically hand searching voluminous
deed records or index card files in various state, city and county offices.
Today, thanks in large part to electronic databases specializing in "public
record" information, this task can be accomplished more thoroughly
in minutes and at very reasonable cost.
Databases don't represent the actual records but rather are an "index"
of the records. Investigators seeking to use public records for legal purposes
(trial evidence, etc.) usually will need to get certified copies from the
custodian agency of the records.
Individual vendors offer access to a wide variety of database options
ranging from local to national asset searches, "skiptracing" -
finding someone who is "missing", or identifying liens & attachments,
bankruptcies, divorce or other probate records and much more.
The better vendors offer "bundles" or "packages"
of searches where simultaneous searches across a number of public record
databases can be accomplished at reasonable cost.
|For example, one large public record database vendor offers a $7 bundled
search that, "scans over 4 billion records to create a single comprehensive
report on an individual using as little as a last name. The report would
include the individual's full name, any alias names, most current address,
previous address, telephone number, social security number, driver's license
number, date of birth, possible relatives, real property ownership, bankruptcies,
tax liens, judgements, UCC filings, aircraft, watercraft, stock ownership
details and other important personal details."|
Once an underwriter connects into a premium public record database, the
once daunting "paper chase" can often be accomplished in minutes
right from his/her desk. You should be aware that many vendors are stronger
in one part of the country than another & others specialize in certain
types of information. Some vendors offer a greater variety of databases.
Different vendors might also have vastly different cost structures, levels
of service and varying quality of available information. This is one area
where the expression, "Let the Buyer Beware" should be taken literally.
Comparison-shopping is a must.
InterFIRE does not recommend one vendor over any other. However it is
our experience that the best quality public record database vendors tend
to share a number of characteristics:
- they permit a free trial run,
- they will train your personnel for free,
- their databases are updated frequently (at least every six months),
- users can either perform an on-line search themselves or have a staff
expert assist them for an extra fee.
Among other information, public record databases can provide the following;
- Verification of the applicant's identity & address(es)
- Learn how much was paid for the property
- Who else is in the corporation
- Outstanding liens, suits & judgments
- The credit history & outstanding debts of the applicant (consent
- Asset search
- Media search - Has the applicants name, address or company appeared
in the media regionally
- Names, addresses & telephone numbers of neighbors
- Criminal convictions
- Prior employment
- Registered vehicles in the household
- State workers compensation claims
- Vital records (births, marriages, deaths, etc)
Advantages of public record databases:
- Comprehensive information
- There is no "footprint" or audit trail since all records
are in the public domain.
- Can be costly if not managed properly
- Some service providers have a regional or specialty focus.
- Quality varies by vendor.
4. CD-ROM Databases.
There are a variety of CD-ROM database programs available in office supply
stores, computer software stores or through mail-order catalogues that could
help property underwriters verify information. Residential and commercial
telephone numbers and addresses are among the potentially useful.
One CD-ROM product contains information on 115,000,000 listed residential
telephone numbers in the United States. This product permits the user to
search a number of different ways to obtain information about a particular
individual. For example, with the telephone "white pages" CD-ROM
you can search the entire country or, limit the search to a specific state,
a metropolitan area, a city or town, a telephone area code or a zip code.
You can search using a name only, an address only, or just a telephone
number. The product, if it matches, will provide the full name, full mailing
address with a listed telephone number.
Another CD-ROM product, designed for business users, and available commercially,
will provide the following information on individuals:
Name & complete address.
Estimated household income.
Estimated home value.
Age & gender of occupants.
Length of residence.
Another CD-ROM database lists over 10 million businesses by name &
address, telephone number, employee size range and estimated sales, credit
rating code, etc.
5. The Internet
a. The "Net"
Today the Internet is made up of over 80,000 academic, commercial, government
& military interconnected computer networks in more than 200 countries.
The "Net" is an important resource now that promises to be even
more important as time goes on.
The Internet is the world's largest network of independent computer systems
that have agreed to work together to provide a global communications facility.
Once you are familiar with a few basic techniques you should be able to
either go directly to a web site of value or "surf the net" &
find what you are looking for.
There are a number of Internet services of potential value to property
- "Web sites" - Literally millions of people/organizations/government
agencies have "web sites" that a user can access with FTP (file
transfer protocol) and then have the choice to read or download text, graphics/sounds,
etc. into their own computer and print it out. Most of the important web
sites of interest are free.
- "e-mail" (electronic mail) - Provides a user with the ability
to send and receive letters & files to/from other users around the
world - instantly and for free.
- "Newsgroups" - Bulletin boards that contain information and
commentary from people about a specific subject (i.e. underwriting, arson
investigation, terrorism, etc.).
- "World Wide Web" - An electronic interface (switchboard)
that allows you to link into the Internet system.
The only requirements you need to get on the "Net" are a computer,
common software platforms, a modem that hooks into an ordinary telephone
jack and a service contract with a local "Internet provider" or,
membership in a national service such as America - Online, CompuServe or
similar. Today, a one-month agreement with an Internet Provider can cost
as little as $10 and may include 20 - 30 hours of free Internet access time.
One-month of unlimited Internet use with one of the national providers usually
costs about $20.
c. Researching on the Net
The first time you go on-line you will probably see the Internet provider's
"home page." Chances are you can "jump" from there directly
to other web sites that will give you the local/national news, weather,
sports, events of interest and much more.
If you click on the icon for "Search the Web" you will get
a screen with a blinking cursor in a text box. If you enter "underwriting"
in that box and then click on "go" within seconds the "search
engine" will identify more than 30,000 or more web sites that may have
information for you.
The first ten or twenty sites that most closely match your topic will
come up automatically. Scroll down the page reading the thumbnail descriptions
until you find one that seems to meet your needs.
Just double click on the site's highlighted name to open it. If you like
what you see you can read it on the computer screen or choose to save the
information to your computer's hard drive or print it out.
Underwriters can use the following formats to improve their odds at getting
the right web sites:
A search for... Returns pages containing...
- fire arson fire and/or arson preferring pages with the phrase fire
- "fire arson" the word fire next to the word arson
- +fire arson fire, maybe arson
- +fire+arson both fire and arson in the document, not necessarily next
to one another
- +fire-arson pages containing the word Fire; pages with the word arson
are ranked lower
- John Smith the name John Smith (Remember to capitalize proper nouns)
- John,Smith the name John and the name Smith
If you want to be able to return to that web site sometime just click
on the "Bookmarks" menu and click on "Add a Bookmark."
The next time you want to return to that site simply click on "Go to
Bookmarks" and then click on the name of the site and you'll be back
to it in seconds.
If you are interested in speeding up research consider disabling the
"graphics" from the websites you visit. To do this simply click
on the "Options" menu and then see if there is a checkmark next
to "Auto Load Images" on the pull down menu. If there is a checkmark
next to "Auto Load Images", click on it to remove graphics. All
the new websites that you open will be "text only." This is much
e. Search Engines
The best way to search the web for sites of interest is to simply use
one of the "search engines" supplied by your Internet vendor.
Occasionally you can locate a specific major organization's website by pulling
down the "File" menu click on "Open" (or, Ctrl + "O")
and then entering the organization's simple Internet address & appropriate
f. Searching for fire/arson related websites
Most of these are common sense. For example, www.ford.com will take you
to the Ford Motor Company's website, www.iaai.org will take you to the International
Association of Arson Investigators website, www.atf.gov will take you to
the Bureau of Alcohol of Tobacco & Firearms website and so forth.
Domain (i.e., zone)
Government body or department
International Organization (e.g. NATO)
Anything that doesn't fit anywhere else, such as professional societies,
non-profit organizations, etc.
g. InterFIRE highly recommends these websites as a place for property
underwriters to start learning about fire, arson & insurance fraud.
InterFIRE Recommended Web Sites
|interFIRE VR Recommended Web Sites
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms, Washington DC
Information on the agency, its programs, training, wanted persons, hot
links to fire/arson/explosion websites & more.
American Re-Insurance, Princeton, NJ
Information of the company, insurance, re-insurance, Arson "Tip
of the Quarter", hot links to the insurance industry, insurance information
databases & more.
International Association of Arson Investigators (IAAI), Louisville,
The IAAI is the largest organization of fire/arson investigators in the
world with Chapters in 45 states and 30 countries. The site contains fire/arson
information & hotlinks to other important sites.
National Fire Academy, Emmitsburg, MD
Information about fire/arson, firefighting, fire prevention & other
training programs offered by the NFA at the National Fire Academy campus
(www.nfa.gov) & remotely throughout the nation. Hotlinks to major sites
of interest including the Learning Resource Center, the largest fire/arson
library in the world (www.lrc.gov). The library's holdings can be searched
on-line. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (www.fema.gov) is the parent
organization of the USFA & NFA.
Learning Resource Center, U.S. Fire Administration, Emmitsburg, MD
A major collection of information on fire/arson investigation and related
topics with over 60,000 volumes and more than 200 periodicals, magazines
and journals with a fire focus. This site allows the user to search the
library's holdings most of which can be obtained through the inter-library
loan program through your local library.
National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, MA.
NFPA is a world leader in formulating and publishing codes and standards
for fire safety. Its website contains information about fire protection
codes, training, consultation services and hotlinks to many of the most
important fire and arson investigation organization's web sites.
National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST), Gaithersburg,
A link to the Building & Fire Research Laboratory that conducts scientific
experiments and testing of products and processes to determine fire hazard
and combustion properties.
Building & Fire Research Laboratory - Fire Research Information
FIREDOC is a fire research bibliographic database containing 50,000 documents
on nearly any fire research related subject. The user searches the database
using "key words", the author's name or word(s) in a title. The
service is free and can be searched from the web, the Internet or via a
h. Other web sites to assist property underwriters with research
Some public records research can be done for free.
P/C underwriters can begin their Internet public record or fire incident
research by using a search engine right from their Service Provider's home
page. For example, if you want to see if the State of Florida put any of
its public records on the Internet begin by searching "Florida + Public
Records." Scroll down the "hits" to see if the type of public
record you are seeking is provided. Click on the highlighted name &
the site will open.
If the category of public record or fire investigation research is linked
to the Internet then you can open it & search for the information there.
Some of these sites provide information for free. A few may charge a nominal
fee. Keep in mind that high-quality public record database vendors will
generally provide a broad range of information for one low cost. Instead
of searching for information incrementally consider getting "bundled"
information from a vendor that includes the specific field you are looking
Additional public record information is available through Law Enforcement
Databases and CD-ROM databases. Much of this information can be quickly
obtained via "Public Record Database Services" and it is always
available by going to the records custodian in person.
A specific department or organization that provides data on the web usually
has a more complicated looking address because it is often a unit address
within a larger organization. To examine one of these sites click on the
"File" menu then click on "Open." Enter the address
exactly as shown here & click OK.
i. Two hints:
If you use the web frequently for research or education you will probably
find hundreds of web sites that have information that may be of value to
you. Once you are on-line, organize your favorite sites by simply clicking
on "Organize Favorites" and set up topic files then save each
Internet address chosen as a favorite into a specific topic file.
InterFIRE will recommend specific websites of high value to fire/arson
investigators to get you going quickly and so you can see the incredible
value and relevance of the Internet to your work.
To reach one of these sites all you have to do is click on the "File"
menu and then click on "Open." Copy the "address" of
the site exactly as shown in our listing and then click "OK."
The site will appear within seconds. Almost all of these sites offer "Hotlinks"
to other related sites. To reach a "hotlink" website just double
click on its name.
j. Web sites of interest to P/C underwriters on fire/arson, property
insurance and insurance fraud
InterFIRE provides additional examples of web sites that may be especially
useful for property underwriters, property claims investigators and fire/arson
investigators. Every day more sites come on-line. Some of these sites may
go off line at some point.
Insurance Industry & Underwriting Organizations & Information
is a major developer of insurance industry standards & forms.
Insurance Information Institute - statistics and facts about arson &
fraud and other subjects affecting the industry.
Insurance News Network.
International Association of Special Investigation Units - insurance
fraud information & training.
International Association of Auto Theft Investigators - information on
motor vehicle fraud.
One thousand property & causality web links including some for property
Canadian Coalition against Insurance Fraud - Excellent resource on insurance
Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Insurance Information Exchange - information about underwriting &
Information about the Property & Casualty Insurance Industry.
Insurance Services Office provides actuarial, underwriting & claims
information for the insurance industry.
American Association of Insurance Services - One of two national advisory
organizations that develops and files state regulator forms, manuals &
rating information for the P/C industry.
National Underwriter - A publication that includes information of interest
Chartered Property & Causality Underwriters Society (CPCU) - An organization
that provides training and education , a code of ethics and provides standards
for the underwriting profession.
Inland Marine Underwriters Association (IMUA) - national association
for the inland marine underwriting association.
Business Insurance Magazine - Articles of interest to P/C underwriters.
American Insurance Association - A P/C trade association.
Coalition against Insurance Fraud
Fraud Defense Network
Fire Underwriting Resources (general)
Truss roof collapse information
Web site link to Chemical, Fire Protection, Electrical, Facility &
more professional engineering societies.
Lee Cole & Associates (motor vehicle fire investigation publications)
U.S. Department of Transportation vehicle recalls
Underwriters Laboratory (UL) An independent, not-for-profit product testing
& certification organization for over a century with U.S. & international
Consumer Product Safety Council - A federal U.S. Government agency that
provides information on hazardous products and more.
People & Company Locators
Database America People Finder
Locate a person, their address, telephone number & sometimes directions
to the person's house.
Information on over 100,000 domestic companies on the web.
Yellow & white pages for domestic & some overseas countries,
US government agency locator, toll free numbers, weather & more.
Search 325 million names and family relations.
Domestic & overseas road maps & directions to find a specific
location or address.
Nationwide business & residential phone directory
Underwriting & Public Record Databases
Insurance Services Office (ISO) webpage. A major supplier of statistical,
actuarial, underwriting and claims information to the insurance industry.
www.iso.com Use the "Site Index" pull down menu on the ISO
splash page to learn more about AISG, A-PlusTM (commercial & personal
lines underwriting database), PILR, INDEX & other vital insurance claims
databases & related services are offered by this company.
American Insurance Services Group (AISG) is an industry-supported provider
of insurance and public record database information for both commercial
& personal lines of insurance.
advertising claims nearly 1,100 insurance companies, 84% of the industry
by premium & 24 FAIR Plans, report to their underwriting database.
This provides property underwriters with 3 - 5 years of claims experience
on all losses due to all perils at all thresholds. Note that only insurance
companies that contribute data are allowed access to claims loss information.
- A major supplier of personal lines, property & causality underwriting
database and predictive model information to the insurance industry.
advertising claims its databases can provide loss data for the past five
years for approximately 80% of the U.S. personal lines property market,
and about 95% of the U.S. personal lines auto market.
Note that only insurance companies that contribute data are allowed access
claims loss information.
subsidiary, is a comprehensive public record database vendor in the United
States. The system claims access to more than 4 billion public records at
provides "Credit Header" information that provides a full name,
alias names, full or partial DOB, SSN, current & former addresses, real
property assets and some information on bankruptcies, liens, corporate affiliations,
Database Technologies - DBT's public record database is called AutoTrackTM. This is another large
and respected public record database vendor in the United States. The system
advertises access to more than 4 billion public records at reasonable cost.
provides "Credit Header" information that provides a full name,
alias names, full or partial DOB, SSN, current & former addresses, real
property assets and some information on bankruptcies, liens, corporate affiliations,
Individual States Public Records Files (free & fee)
An increasing number of federal, state and municipal governments are putting
public records on-line. These can often be searched for free. Begin by going
to the state's website (i.e. www.state.tx.us
for Texas, www.state.ca.us
for California, etc.) & then check the Secretary of State's Office in the
jurisdiction or use an Internet search engine to query (i.e. Texas & state
government) to locate the links into the governmental office that would be the
custodian of the records you seek. Some states allow search of Department of
Correction sites for people' incarcerated and other personal information.
BRB Publications provides an impressive listing of free and fee municipal,
county, state & federal public record search websites. This site provides
links to free public record websites, hot links to public record research
vendors & fee services, SSN searches, reverse directories and more.
Another BRB Publications related website containing reverse directories,
maps and other useful information & links.
Pay Investigative Sites
Motor Vehicle & Record searches
National Data Research (background)
A Final Question for Property Underwriters
Are Accidental or "Unintentionally" caused fires really
When you take a closer look at the cause of many so-called "accidental"
fires in the United States today it will be clear that "accidental"
too often really means negligent. A decade ago experts in the field of traffic
accident reconstruction began calling accidents by their real name, "caused
events." Many, if not most, unintentional fires fall into the same
Most experts in fire investigation and arson & fire prevention would
confirm that the overwhelming majority of fires resulting in property loss
and personal injury could be prevented if reasonable maintenance, housekeeping,
security and due care standards were observed.
These facts have important implications for property carriers and property
underwriters seeking to reduce their company's accidental and intentional
When you take a closer look at arson arrest data from the Federal Bureau
of Investigation's Uniform Crime Report a few facts jump right out at you.
- Most arrested arsonists are young.
- Nearly 70% of arrested arsonists are under 25 years of age.
- Juveniles under 18 years of age account for 53%of arson arrests.
- Vandalism is considered to be the most common single motive for arson
- The motives for setting a fire are closely related to being able to
gain access to combustibles.
- Spite/revenge is the most common single motive for adults.
Enforcement of adequate premises security measures such as strong doors
and windows, adequate fencing and lighting, intrusion and fire detection
alarms, and sprinklers in concert with reasonable housekeeping standards
would stop many, if not most, juvenile and adult arsonists from ever getting
to the point of fire origin.
Well -maintained & well -managed homes and businesses seldom suffer
from "accidental" or incendiary fires.
Prior knowledge of unsavory character, past criminal convictions, failing
business or personal finances, decrepit risk condition, poor security &
fire detection & protection, outrageous insurance limits on derelict
facilities or risks of depreciated value, and unreasonable claims history
would rule out fire coverage being placed in most arson cases.
Prior knowledge of sub-standard maintenance & housekeeping, dangerous
storage, careless use of ignition sources, prior accidental fires and poor
fire detection and suppression system maintenance would rule out coverage
being placed in most cases of unintentional fires.
Prevention is the key. Underwriting & public record databases open
the door to the full picture.
This is where the professional property underwriter comes into play.
Reprinted with permission.