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- How do insurance companies investigate a death claim?
- April 12, 2012 10:10 PM
The grim reaper takes few vacations, but sometimes he can provide a quick buck from an insurance company. From people faking their own deaths to those taking out a bogus policy or trying to escape the law, the lure of an easy payout keeps life insurance companies on the lookout for fraudulent death claims.
While they don’t go peering into every coffin, there are techniques investigators use to figure out which cases might not hold water.
Steven N. Weisbart, senior vice president and chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, a public information source about insurance for consumers, knows all about the red flags insurance companies look for when it comes time to pay death benefits. The overwhelming majority of the time there aren’t any red flags to worry about, but when there are, insurers look closely to make sure nothing is out of place.
In nearly all cases, the only thing an insurance company needs is a signed death certificate. Once that’s issued listing the time, place and cause of death, the benefits are paid. Only when there are questions over the cause of death do insurance companies begin their own investigation.
In some instances, individuals who endeavor to commit fraud get away with it for several decades. A recent example is the case of 73-year-old Robert Arcieri. Arcieri was a well-known, well-liked and now infamous businessman from Phoenix, who managed to get away with faking his own demise for 25 years, while he and his family profited off the life insurance money.
In 1987, Arcieri convinced local authorities and his life insurance company that he fell into the Colorado River and died during a fishing trip, leaving behind a string of pending felony charges and a $700,000 life insurance policy for his family.
The charges included armed robbery, three counts of conspiracy to commit burglary and two counts of solicitation to commit murder.
When he pleaded guilty to these charges earlier this year, prosecutors tacked on an additional charge of fraud for faking his own death. He received a 10-year sentence in March.
Larry Flick was a Phoenix, Ariz. police detective and lead investigator of Arcieri’s case at the time. He says there was no doubt in the law enforcement community that Arcieri’s nighttime drowning was staged.
“Nobody that was associated with this case believed that he wasn’t alive and I’m sure the insurance investigator also believed he was alive,” Flick says. “The feigning of the death was successful in that it paid off but we didn’t quash the original charges, they stayed in effect all those years.”
Flick says Arcieri first came to the attention of police after he took out an insurance policy on a business associate, then tried to take out a hit on the individual so he could collect. Unfortunately for Arcieri, the man he tried to hire for the job was a police informant.
Arcieri was indicted and arrested in June 1986. Flick says one of Arcieri’s accomplice’s agreed to cop a plea and testify against him on the pending charges, as well as provide information on other alleged activities.
The prosecutor decided to drop the charges, let Arcieri go and later re-indict him after investigating the accomplice’s claims.
Flick says Arcieri planned his disappearance in advance by creating false identities, bank accounts under assumed names and filing for bankruptcy.
“Arcieri was just a capitalist, a crooked capitalist nonetheless, but it was all about money. Anything that could turn a buck, whether it was legitimate or illegitimate he was into it,” Flick says.
The case was featured on the TV show “Unsolved Mysteries” and, because of the suspicious nature of Arcieri’s death his life insurance company fought payment on the claim. Flick says that is because Arcieri wasn’t under indictment at the time he disappeared, the criminal investigation against him wasn’t admitted in court.
In March 1990, a jury ordered the life insurance company to payout on the policy, which by then had grown to more than $1 million with interest. Flick says most of the money went to cover Arcieri’s bankruptcy debts, with his three daughters collecting around $120,000 each.
“The jury that sat in on the case was not allowed to hear the very obvious reason why Arcieri would’ve feigned his death,” Flick says. “We thought this was a ruse.”
Art Widowski, a Phoenix police detective, says Arcieri fled to Canada and upstate New York before settling in Spokane, Wash. under an alias, where he married another woman and sold mobile homes.
“Once he settled at a legitimate job, he kept that identity. Everybody that I spoke to thought he was just a guy who had a penchant for being a salesman, no one suspected anything since he had a legitimate job,” Widowksi says.
Arcieri later moved to Palm Springs, Calif. where he was known to have visited two of his daughters. While the daughters benefited from their father’s life insurance policy, Widowski says there’s no evidence that they helped him financially.
Widowski says Arcieri’s family ties ultimately led to his capture, as one of his daughters turned him into police after they had a falling out.Pages: 1 2 3 4
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