Economic recession brings out troubling automotive trend

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PHOENIX - "Driving and ditching" is a troubling trend on the rise during this recession.

The economy is pushing a lot of people over the edge.

More and more are resorting to crime by ditching their own vehicles to collect insurance money or to get out of the payments.

It might look like a vehicle fire, but investigators say it's a crime more people are committing to relieve financial pressure.

"We are seeing as the times get harder, people that normally wouldn't commit certain crimes or behave in a certain manner, they do," said Sgt. Todd Love with the Avondale Police Department.

Nationwide, auto fire insurance claims rose six-percent last year.

Car demolition cases are now dominating work hours for the Arizona vehicle theft task force.

Detectives showed 3 On Your Side drivers are resorting to extreme measures such as torching, drowning or ditching vehicles in hopes of getting quick cash from insurance policies.

"Whoever does this, the goal is to get this thing damaged so much it's a total loss where it will never ever come back to them and the insurance company's then stuck with it," said Bob Owens with Arizona Vehicle Task Force.

Tracey Tatum and Terrell Loomis were convicted recently in an insurance fraud scheme involving a 2007 Yukon Denali.

Yavapai County detectives say they lit the SUV on fire to recover the insurance money.

Both are serving time behind bars, but 'vehicle give-up' is not a victimless crime.

"We're all suffering, as their claims go up, so do our premiums," said Michael Summers Jr. with Arizona Vehicle Task Force.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau said each American household pays about $300 extra each year, a loss of at least $30 billion dollars annually, all because of insurance fraud.

It's a crime that rarely leads to arrest.

"About 12% of those fraudulent claims are actually brought to justice," said Gus Miranda with State Farm Insurance. "Do we catch them all, I would have to say no we don't."

An example is a 2006 Dodge Ram that was found scorched at the Phoenix International Raceway two weeks ago.

The owner reported it missing the same night.

People from all economic backgrounds now find themselves unable or unwilling to make payments, so in record numbers they are dumping their financial stress on the side of the road.

Investigators did show us some specifics as to how they can tell that a person destroyed their own vehicle, but asked 3OYS not to reveal these details for obvious reasons.

3OYS doesn't want to help anyone who might be looking to commit a crime.

By the way, insurance fraud is a class six felony punishable by up to ten years in prison.