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Crimes Against Property - Arson

arsonists money fires insurance

The UCR Program defines arson as "any willful or malicious [intended to cause harm] burning or attempt to burn, with or without intent to defraud [be deceptive], a dwelling house, public building, motor vehicle or aircraft, personal property of another, etc." The UCR further explains that fires are considered arson only if they have been investigated and proven to have been set on purpose. Other fires of suspicious or unknown cause are not automatically classified as arson. An "intent to defraud" refers to making an arson fire look like an accident so insurance money can be collected.

The crime of arson is generally carried out by one of two categories of individuals, either young males or professional adult arsonists. The UCR Program statistics have found that approximately one-half of all arsons are set by boys under eighteen years of age. While sometimes a teenage-started fire is merely vandalism of property for thrills, or just something to do, chronic (offenders who repeat their crimes) youthful arsonists are the study of psychologists.

Psychologists believe chronic arsons committed by juveniles are usually part of deeper emotional problems. Youths who start fires enjoy the sight of a burning building and the destruction caused. A youthful arsonist will often set a number of fires before being caught. The thrill and excitement they experience watching these fires makes them want to do more. This state of mind is apparently the same for both youthful and adult arsonists. Some exceptions are professional arsonists who are motivated by money and adult arsonists who are seeking revenge against the property owner.

Students in an arson investigation course observe burn patterns in several stages. (AP/Wide World Photos)

Every city in the United States has expert professional arsonists available for hire. They make a living by burning down buildings or houses and making the fire appear as an accident so the property owner can collect insurance money. There are many reasons why a property owner might hire a professional arsonist. An owner may want to do away with an old house that costs too much to maintain. The owner could collect the insurance on the house then sell the empty lot.

There are a number of reasons why a businessperson might hire an arsonist to destroy a place of business. The owner might have outdated equipment and destroying the equipment would bring in insurance money or low cost government loans to rebuild and start anew. Another reason to hire an arsonist would be to pay off high debts with the insurance money or to destroy records of money mismanagement within the business.


Another type of arson that appeared in the 1990s and early twenty-first century is environmental arson. Extreme environmental groups on the West Coast started a number of destructive fires to focus public awareness on their concerns. A U.S. Forest Service district headquarters building was burned to the ground in Oakridge, Oregon, in protest over forest logging practices. Other environmentally motivated arson attacks have occurred on car dealership lots in Southern California and Oregon. Environmental arsonists have destroyed a number of new sport utility vehicles, which consume large amounts of gas, to protest their inefficiency and their pollution of the planet.

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