Big Brother Is Watching: It’s Good For You and Bad for the Bad Guys

    It’s Monday morning and you awake to the sound of your alarm blaring. If you’re like a hundred million other Americans, it means it’s time to get ready for work.

    Some people get up, get dressed, then wrestle the kids into their clothes and the car to drop them off at school before heading into work, while others have the luxury of enjoying breakfast and a cup of coffee before getting in the car for the commute to the office. Or maybe you live in a city and can walk out the door and stop at the corner coffee shop to grab a cup of java and a scone before catching a taxi, the bus or the subway.

    Regardless of your own Monday morning routine, in the words of the iconic all-female ‘80s band The Bangles, “It’s just another manic Monday.” And, depending on your route to work and the stops you make, you might be surprised to learn you’ve been captured on camera at least a dozen times before you even arrive.

    “Consider this: once you leave your home, you’re caught by multiple traffic cameras at various intersections and freeway monitors filming traffic lanes,” says Dan Bales, national director of special investigations at Mercury Insurance. “Additionally, many public parking lots are equipped with security cameras, as are gas stations, grocery stores, coffee shops, convenience stores, banks and ATM machines. These are just a handful of places where you can be photographed as you make your way through an average day, let alone simply on your way to work.”

    It may be unsettling to think about how cameras may infringe on your privacy, but surveillance camera footage can play a significant role in helping law enforcement solve crimes and protect you. Additionally, it helps special investigators like Bales detect and prevent insurance fraud, which saves Americans millions of dollars and helps keep insurance rates low.

    “One in five U.S. adults (about 45 million people) say it’s acceptable to defraud insurance companies under certain circumstances,” says Bales. “Mercury’s Special Investigations Unit (SIU) is constantly on the lookout for fraudulent claims and, without giving away trade secrets, the technology and our tactics for catching fraudsters is always evolving. Chances are, if you’re trying to defraud the system, you will get caught and the penalties will be severe.”

    Mercury’s SIU was founded in 1978 to help combat insurance fraud. Since its inception, investigators have exposed thousands of fraudulent automotive, homeowner and medical claims, saving policyholders hundreds of millions of dollars.

    “We completed 1,441 investigations in California alone in 2014, exposing more than $22 million in attempted fraud,” says Bales. “Surveillance cameras were instrumental in debunking many of those claims.

    “Certain types of fraud are decreasing. Auto theft, for instance, is becoming more difficult to fake due to the sophistication of on-board anti-theft systems. However, staged accidents still occur and we’re seeing an increase in fraud related to personal injury and doctored medical records. Mercury’s SIU works with local law enforcement to train officers how to recognize staged accidents, as well as feigned or enhanced damages, while at the scene. Many times, this training allows them to arrest fraudsters on the spot.”

    Bales also notes that even the savviest criminal can’t be certain whose Facebook page or Instagram feed they might end up on in the background of someone else’s photo, so fake injuries can be uncovered.

    The public can do its part to help lower insurance costs by reporting suspicious activity to the National Insurance Crime Bureau. And, when involved in any incident, questionable or not, take photos or video of the participants and damages that occur. (BPT)

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