Memories of First Car Thefts Sparked by NICB Centennial

January 12, 2012

The year was 1912 and Woodrow Wilson was president. Jim Thorpe won Olympic gold in the decathlon and pentathlon events at Stockholm, Sweden. New Mexico became the 47th state in January followed a month later by Arizona completing the contiguous United States. In April, RMS Titanic came to rest on the Atlantic Ocean floor at a depth of over 12,500 feet.

On assembly lines pioneered by Henry Ford, roughly 50,000 utilitarian Model T Touring Cars would be cranked out in 1912 — at a cost to eager buyers of $690. While some Americans today annually spend that amount and more on coffee, $690 was a small fortune in 1912, resulting in the creation of a new class of criminal − the car thief.

The theft of three Chalmers brand automobiles from the streets of Chicago in the summer of 1912 led to the creation of the Automobile Protective and Information Bureau (APIB) under the leadership of Fred J. Sauter, whose employer, Boston Insurance Company, insured one of the vehicles. Two different insurance companies covered the other vehicles.

Sauter recognized the efficiency in collaborating with the other companies rather than individually pursuing leads to recover the vehicles. Moreover, by casting his new organization as the bridge between insurers and law enforcement he established the model that exists to this day. Recognizing Sauter’s success, several other organizations attempted to replicate APIB only to cause confusion among insurers and law enforcement as to which organization was the single point of contact for information.

All of that was solved in 1927 when the various groups were consolidated into the National Automobile Theft Bureau (NATB). Fred Sauter was elected as NATB’s chairman and held that position until he retired in 1962. Over the years, NATB built a reputation—unparalleled to this day—as the only organization whose special agent investigators define the term “subject matter experts” when discussing stolen vehicle identification. NATB agents were routinely requested to find hidden vehicle identification numbers (VINs) or to “raise” identification numbers that had been removed by auto thieves attempting to hide the true identity of a stolen vehicle.

In 1992, NATB merged with the Insurance Crime Prevention Institute (ICPI) to form the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB). The merger combined the vehicle investigation expertise of the NATB with the insurance fraud prevention knowledge of ICPI and established NICB as the premier not-for-profit insurance crime investigation company.

In recent years, vehicle theft has declined, due to better anti-theft technology and law enforcement efforts, and many of the professional thieves have moved on to more insidious and lucrative kinds of insurance crimes — such as medical fraud and cargo theft. And NICB, while maintaining its core mission of vehicle recovery, has also taken a lead role in combating these crimes.

When NICB questionable claims’ analysis showed a dramatic increase in medical fraud associated with auto policies, NICB established, in 2002, its first Major Medical Fraud Task Force (MMFTF) operations in south Florida and New York City. Consisting of dedicated NICB special agents and analytical resources, these task forces also work closely with law enforcement and insurance company special investigation unit personnel.

The task force environment puts those resources together where communication, cooperation, collaboration and coordination are easily and effectively accomplished. The result is a more coordinated and comprehensive attack on the most egregious kinds of medical fraud occurring within the task force’s jurisdiction.

The MMFTF model has been so successful that it has been replicated in Houston, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Edison, New Jersey (serving the Philadelphia and Delaware areas) and a second Florida task force was recently added in Tampa where Florida’s no-fault law enables auto policy medical fraud to thrive.

Every day millions of tons of merchandise are shipped by truck, train, rail and plane to destinations all across the nation. While most arrive without incident, a growing number of shipments are stolen in transit by organized groups or individuals eager to make a fast dollar by selling the items through an established network of illicit brokers with direct access to black markets. In response to this increasing commercial criminal activity, in 2006, NICB and the Marion County, Florida sheriff’s department established the National Cargo Theft Task Force.

“Insurance crime is causing billions of dollars in economic harm to the nation, the insurance industry and to individual consumers every year,” said NICB President and CEO Joe Wehrle. “The schemes have evolved and have become more complex, but there is one constant through the ages; someone is getting something to which they are not entitled and for which all of us must pay.

“While the Chalmers automobile that was a popular theft target on the streets of Chicago a century ago may not have survived, NICB has not only survived, but has evolved into an organization that its 1,100 member companies and its law enforcement partners across the country can be proud to support.”

About the National Insurance Crime Bureau: headquartered in Des Plaines, Ill., the NICB is a not-for-profit organization exclusively dedicated to preventing, detecting and defeating insurance fraud and vehicle theft through data analytics, investigations, training, legislative advocacy and public awareness. The NICB is supported by more than 1,100 property and casualty insurance companies and self-insured organizations. NICB member companies wrote over $319 billion in insurance premiums in 2010, or approximately 80 percent of the nation’s property/casualty insurance. That includes more than 94 percent ($152 billion) of the nation’s personal auto insurance.

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