The Red Flags of Arson

Investigating fraud of any kind involves understanding the why behind the activity, not just the what.

By Carla Rodriguez | Jan. 26, 2024 | 6 min. read

One of the most common psychologically motivated fraud schemes is Arson. Arson fraud is defined as the purposeful burning of property to recoup an insurance payout. Have you ever thought about how Arson is proven? Would there be evidence left behind? Wouldn’t it all have burned away? This is exactly what we will be discussing in this article.

People don’t generally commit crimes of this nature out of ordinary boredom. Arson fraud needs to be seen through the eyes of the committing party. Profit is far and away the biggest motivation, but there are others to consider.


A Cause and Origin investigator who can rule out natural or accidental causes can be a great asset when investigating an arson case. They will know what to look for and have experience reporting to judges and in front of juries. This is the best way to determine if your case needs further digging or was simply an act of nature.

Incendiary is the word used to describe an act that deliberately aimed to set something on fire. Once determined your case is incendiary the next step is to determine the motive.

Six Classifications of Firesetters:


Often these types of fires are set as a way of covering up some other crime, such as theft. These are often the result of peer pressure or can even be from a requisite gang initiation. These types of fires are also most commonly set by underage persons. This is also why schools are targeted, or areas surrounding schools like trash cans or fields.


Just as it sounds, this kind of fire is set by someone looking for a thrill, or perhaps some other kind of attention. From fields to structures, this is often done in areas familiar to the person who sets the fire. They often have feelings of pride associated to the fires and may even stick around and take pictures.

Revenge :

Someone looking for vengeance may use arson as a form of retaliation. The target for a revenge fire can be people, businesses, insurance companies, a specific group, or even anger at life as they live it. The firesetter will target a home, vehicle, or other private possession that they have a personal vendetta against.

Crime Concealment :

Covering up a crime through fire is considered one of the easiest as the arsonist often believes any physical evidence or identifying attributes can be eliminated. Keyword: considered. This assumption does not hold since many times medical records or DNA can still be found.


Perhaps the most common motive for committing arson fraud, and where an adjuster will spend the bulk of their time investigating. The stress of a tumultous financial situation like missing payments on a home, drives people to believe burning the structure will be a way out of it. The underlying goal is to collect the insurance money – thus allowing them a way out of their burden, but also giving them a head start with the insurance money, or the ability to rebuild what they lost. This type of fraud can be either residential or commercial.

Extremism: This type of motivation is more flamboyant. The perpetrator in this category is attempting to further various causes, either political, social, or religious. It could be an individual or a group.


Arson for Profit

Proving arson for insurance payouts is challenging. While traditional crime-fighting methods work against indirect motives, new approaches are needed for direct profit arson. Insurance companies have developed effective strategies, such as the property loss register, a computer listing identifying those frequently involved in fire claims.

Arson rings involve two or more people collaborating to commit arson, which is intentionally setting things on fire. These crimes are serious, widespread, and often not reported enough. The main motives are making money directly through insurance payouts or indirectly by eliminating competition. Arson rings sometimes involve cooperation from various professionals like businesspersons, insurance brokers, adjusters, realtors, and the individuals committing the crime.
Law enforcement struggles to link suspects to the arson act. Arson methods vary, including using large amounts of gasoline or incendiary devices.

The following example shows the extent fraudsters will go to collect insurance payouts, A 72-year-old Florida man, Verdon Taylor, was n sentenced to 40 years in prison for orchestrating a 15-year insurance fraud scheme.

The 15-year crime:

The scheme involved at least 27 fires across two states. Taylor and four accomplices, including Vershawn Jackson, Marie Taylor, Sylvia Mitchell (also known as Sylvia Jackson), and Eugenia Fleming, engaged in an arson-for-profit plan. They bought vehicles or mobile homes, insured them, and then intentionally set them on fire to claim insurance money. The group staged the scenes by furnishing the properties with items purchased from flea markets or auctions. The insurance companies paid out over $1 million in fraudulent claims throughout the scheme.


The Red Flags of Arson:

We want you to be prepared for the next time a suspicious case involving fire crosses your desk. Arson investigators should review the original receipts and documents concerning the reported lost inventory, machinery, or property. Then, confirm with all of the parties involved, (banker, tenants, mortgagee, business partners, etc.). They should be aware of the loss and can confirm the accuracy of the information submitted on behalf of the claim.

Further, if the claimant appears distressed over the prospect of an examination under oath (EUO) there may be cause for further review of the facts of the case. Statement inconsistencies represent potential opportunities for fraud.

Always look for the most common signs of arson to help in your investigation:

  • Unidentifiable or multiple points of origin
  • No ‘V’ burn pattern, or unusual patterns
  • Lack of accidental or natural causes
  • Evidence of forced entry into home or vehicle
  • Absence of valuable items
  • Presence of accelerants
  • Reported unusual smoke color
  • Tampered or damaged sprinkler systems
  • Cloth or other burn trails, windows propped open
  • Inconsistent behavior of the owner
  • Owner-reported stolen vehicle


The Truth Behind Arson

In this article, we delve into the world of arson fraud, a common type of psychologically motivated fraud. Arson fraud involves intentionally setting fire to property to claim insurance payouts. We explore the challenges of proving arson fraud, considering the difficulty in finding evidence after a fire.

The motives behind arson are diverse, including profit, excitement, revenge, crime concealment, and extremism. Arson for profit is particularly common, driven by financial distress and the desire to collect insurance money. Arson rings, involving collaboration between multiple individuals are part of the whopping $80 billion business that is insurance fraud.

Proving arson for insurance payouts is complex we want to make that easier. The benefits of having an experienced vendor to recommend investigators and the next steps are unmatched. If you’re under the suspicion your fire claim is more than an accident, give us a call.

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