Friday, November 19, 2010

Americans Still Perceive Crime as on the Rise

Two-thirds of Americans say there is more crime in the United States than there was a year ago, reflecting Americans general tendency to perceive crime as increasing. Still, the percentage perceiving an increase in crime is below what Gallup measured in the late 1980s and early 1990s, but is higher than the levels from the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Americans are somewhat more positive about the trend in crime in their local area, but still are more likely to see it going up than going down. These trends, based on Gallup s annual <em>Crime survey</em>, come at a time when both the FBI and the Bureau of Justice Statistics recently reported drops in property and violent crime from 2008 to 2009 in separate studies, as well as documenting longer-term declines in both types of crime.

Though the latest Gallup estimates, from an Oct. 7-10, 2010, survey, would reflect a more up-to-date assessment of the crime situation than those reports do, Americans were also likely to perceive crime as increasing both locally and nationally in the 2009 Gallup <em>Crime survey</em>. The apparent contradiction in assessments of the crime situation stems from Americans general tendency to view crime as increasing.

That said, the percentage holding this view appears to be higher when crime actually is increasing, as in the late 1980s and early 1990s, than when it is not. Americans perceptions of crime may also be influenced by their general assessments of how things are going in the country.

Americans generally believe the crime situation to be better when their satisfaction with national conditions is high, as in the late 1990s, when the economy was strong, and in the wake of the 9/11 terror attacks, when patriotism and support for political leaders surged. Thus, the current estimates of increasing crime may to some degree be inflated due to widespread dissatisfaction with the state of the U.S. today.

Apart from whether the crime rate is increasing, 60% of Americans believe the crime problem in the U.S. is "extremely" or "very serious," up from 55% in 2009 and tied for the highest Gallup has measured since 2000. A majority of Americans have typically rated the U.S. crime problem as extremely or very serious in the 11-year history of this question.

As is usually the case, Americans are much less concerned about the crime problem in their local area, as 13% say the crime problem is extremely or very serious where they live.

Americans who have been victimized by crime in the past 12 months are about twice as likely as those who have not been victimized to describe the crime problem in their local area as very serious (18% to 10%). Crime victims are also substantially more likely to perceive crime as increasing in their local area (62% to 43%). However, being a victim of crime bears little relationship to the way one perceives the crime situation in the U.S.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Return Fraud to Cost Retailers $3.7 Billion This Holiday Season

Fine-tuning return policies has become both a science and an art as retailers continue to grapple with roller-coaster return fraud rates. According to NRF&#8217;s annual <em>Return Fraud Survey</em>, completed by loss prevention executives at 111 retail companies, the retail industry will lose an estimated $3.68 billion to return fraud this holiday season, up from $2.74 billion last year. Return fraud will cost retailers an estimated $13.95 billion during the 2010 calendar year, up from $9.59 billion in 2009.

When asked if their company has ever changed its return policy to specifically address return fraud, nearly two-thirds (65%) said it had. &#8220;Retailers are still struggling to find the appropriate balance between providing stellar customer service for their shoppers while prohibiting criminals from taking advantage of lenient return policies,&#8221; said Joe LaRocca, Senior Asset Protection Advisor for NRF. &#8220;Combating this very costly problem helps retailers keep prices low but can unfortunately involve establishing policies that inconvenience honest shoppers.&#8221;
The most common type of return fraud is return of stolen merchandise, which 93.5 percent of retailers say they have experienced in the last year. Wardrobing &#8211; the return of used, non-defective merchandise like special occasion apparel and certain electronics &#8211; also poses a huge problem, as more than six in 10 retailers (61.7 percent) say they been victims of this activity within the last year, up from 46.2 percent in 2009.

Additionally, 88.8 percent say they have had a problem with employee return fraud, 68.2 percent have experienced the return of merchandise purchased on fraudulent or stolen tender, and 35.5 percent have found criminals using counterfeit receipts to return merchandise.

As a result of rampant fraud, many retailers have begun to adopt policies which require customers returning merchandise to show identification. Retailers estimate that 3.89 percent of returns with a receipt are fraudulent, but that number skyrockets to 12.61 percent for returns without a receipt. As a result, seven in ten retailers (67 percent) now require customers returning items without a receipt to show identification, which reduces fraud. One in five retailers (21.1 percent) requires shoppers with a receipt to show ID. While the majority of retailers&#8217; policies will remain unchanged this year (83.6 percenet), 5.5 percent of retailers said they will loosen their holiday return policies while 10.9 percent will tighten. According to the survey, one-third (33 percent) of retailers say their return policies are more flexible during the holiday season in order to accommodate shoppers who may be purchasing gifts.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Four Ohio State Buildings Closed After Bomb Threat

Four buildings on The Ohio State University campus were evacuated today after the university received an anonymous message that explosives were placed in the buildings. The buildings are the William Oxley Thompson Memorial Library, the McPherson Chemical Lab, Smith Laboratory and Scott Laboratory. Classes in the three academic buildings involved were canceled, and all four buildings were closed until at least 5 p.m. or until the investigation is complete, according to Vernon Baisden, the university s director of public safety.

The university was notified of the threat at 8:19 a.m. and activated its Buckeye Alert System at 8:41 a.m., according to a message posted on the Ohio State website.

Local, state and federal authorities were assisting in the investigation, Baisden said, but he said officials couldn t release details about specifics.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Report Details Typical Fraudster Profile in an Organization

A fraud suspect might not be easy to pick out of a crowd -- or from a rap sheet. The average fraud perpetrator has no prior fraud charges or convictions, according to new research by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE), a provider of anti-fraud training and education. The offender is commonly between the age of 31-45, and somewhat more likely to be male than female.

More insights gleaned from the study help fill out the profile, however. Behavioral red flags, tenure at an organization, position and educational background are all criteria examined in the ACFE s 2010 <em>Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud &amp; Abuse</em>. The report is drawn from a survey of Certified Fraud Examiners (CFEs) who investigated fraud cases between January 2008 and December 2009.

In addition to studying the traits of perpetrators, the report includes data on how occupational fraud is committed and detected, as well as the characteristics of the victim organization. For the first time, the report includes global data among the 1,843 cases of fraud that were studied.

Key findings about fraud perpetrators from the report include:
<li>High-level perpetrators cause the greatest damage to their organizations. </li>
<li>Frauds committed by owners/executives were more than three times as costly as frauds committed by managers, and more than nine times as costly as employee frauds. </li>
<li>Executive-level frauds also took much longer to detect. Fraud offenders were likely to be found in one of six departments.</li>
<li>More than 80 percent of the frauds in the study were committed by individuals in accounting, operations, sales, executive/upper management, customer service or purchasing. More than half of all cases in the study were committed by individuals between the ages of 31 and 45. </li>
<li>Generally speaking, median losses tended to rise with the age of the perpetrator. Most of the fraudsters in the study had never been previously charged or convicted for a fraud-related offense. Only seven percent of the perpetrators had been previously convicted of a fraud offense. This finding is consistent with prior ACFE studies. </li>
<li>Fraud perpetrators often display warning signs that they are engaging in illicit activity. The most common behavioral red flags displayed by the perpetrators in our study were living beyond their means (43 percent of cases) and experiencing financial difficulties (36 percent of cases). </li>
The information helps arm owners, managers, anti-fraud professionals, law enforcement and others with more insight into the risk factors of fraud. "Fraudsters exhibit behavioral warning signs of their misdeeds," said ACFE President James D. Ratley, CFE. "It s important to remember that this human element of fraud -- demonstrated in red flags such as living beyond one&#8217;s means or exhibiting control issues -- is not identified through an audit or other traditional controls. "This is why the staff at any organization should be trained to recognize these and other common behavioral signs that a fraud might be occurring," Ratley said. "Moreover, they should be encouraged not to ignore such red flags, even when discovered by accident, as they might be the key to detecting or deterring a fraud."
The <em>2010 Report to the Nations</em> is available for download online at the ACFE&#8217;s web site:


Monday, November 15, 2010

Social Security Judges Facing Violent Threats

Judges who hear Social Security disability cases are facing a growing number of violent threats from claimants angry over being denied benefits or frustrated at lengthy delays in processing claims, says an <em>AP</em> report.

There were at least 80 threats to kill or harm administrative law judges or staff over the past year â€" an 18 percent increase over the previous reporting period, according to data collected by the agency. The data was released to the Association of Administrative Law Judges and made available to the <em>AP</em>.

One claimant in Albuquerque, N.M., called his congressman s office to say he was going to "take his guns and shoot employees" in the Social Security hearing office. In Eugene, Ore., a man who was denied benefits said he is "ready to join the Taliban and hurt some people." Another claimant denied benefits told a judge in Greenville, S.C., that he was a sniper in the military and "would go take care of the problem."

Fifty of the incidents came between March and August, the report says, including that of a Pittsburgh claimant who threatened to kill herself outside the hearing office or fly a plane into the building like a disgruntled tax protester did earlier this year at the Internal Revenue Service building in Austin, Tex.

Judges say some claimants become desperate after years of fighting for money to help make ends meet. "To many of them, we re their last best hope for getting relief in the form of income and medical benefits," said Judge Mark Brown, a vice president of the judge s union and an administrative law judge hearing cases in St. Louis.

About 1,400 administrative law judges handle appeals of Social Security disability claims at about 150 offices across the country, says the report. Many are in leased office space rather than government buildings. Brown said the agency provides a single private security guard for each office building that houses judges.

Social Security Administration spokeswoman Trish Nicasio said the agency continually evaluates the level and effectiveness of office security and makes changes as needed.

Visitors and their belongings are screened before entering hearing offices and hearings room, she said, and reception desks are equipped with duress alarms to notify the guard immediately of any disturbance.