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When people try to steal or cheat others out of their money, their properties, or their very identities, we act.

Embezzlement, identity theft, wage theft, counterfeit-check schemes, home-improvement scams, insurance, real estate and loan fraud—these are all serious crimes that can have a devastating, lasting impact on victims’ lives beyond simple economics. 

They also hurt the larger consumer population that ultimately ends up paying the price for these crimes through higher fees and premiums.

To investigate and prosecute these crimes, we’ve assembled a team of aggressive, talented attorneys, investigators and support staff who know how to navigate complex paper trails, government agencies and financial institutions. 

During any given week, our Economic & Property Crimes Unit fields hundreds of phone calls and emails. We make it a point to carefully review and either respond to every inquiry or refer people to the appropriate agency.

We prioritize cases involving criminal enterprises where perpetrators are scamming a lot of people, but we also take on smaller cases that involve individual victims, including senior citizens and members of other vulnerable groups.

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“Perpetrators of economic and property crimes, like deed theft, often prey on our most vulnerable citizens, robbing them of the opportunity to build generational wealth.”

LARRY KRASNER
District Attorney
City of Philadelphia

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DATA LAB: MEASURING JUSTICE

In the past six years, our prosecution efforts to fight economic and property crimes have resulted in restitution awards of more than $8 million.

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“Our work is about more than money. It’s about protecting our most vulnerable citizens.
The prosecutors in this unit are equal parts brilliant and tough. They each care about helping victims in need.”

DAWN HOLTZ
Supervisor
Economic Crimes

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UNIT TEAM LEADERSHIP

Supervisor:
Dawn Holtz
[email protected]
Assistant Supervisor:
Kimberly Esack
[email protected]
Economic Crime Unit Hotline:
215-686-9902

In 2018, District Attorney Krasner announced bringing together the insurance and government fraud groups under the Economic Crimes Unit to prosecute white collar crimes more aggressively.
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ECONOMIC & PROPERTY CRIMES: WHO TO CONTACT FIRST

In most economic and property cases, the District Attorney’s Office prosecutes following a police investigation.
To report: 
  • Theft or fraud, call the Philadelphia Police Department Economic Crimes Division: 215-686-3396. Or 911 to file a report with your local police district. A detective will follow up with you regarding an investigation.
  • Identity theft, call the Federal Trade Commission: 877-IDTHEFT.
  • Social Security fraud, call the Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration: 800-269-0271
  • Home improvement contractor fraud, email the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office: [email protected]
  • To file a complaint against a business, call the Pennsylvania Attorney General Bureau of Consumer Protection: 800-441-2555. Or email: [email protected]
  • To fix problems, for example, with your deed resulting from a real-estate scam, contact a private attorney. 
  • To seek free help or legal assistance at a reduced rate, check the Philadelphia Bar Association’s lawyer referral service of real-estate attorneys or call 215-238-6333.

ECONOMIC & PROPERTY CRIMES: MOST COMMON TYPES

We encourage everyone to be aware of common economic and property crimes so you can better protect yourselves and advocate for justice.

Deed Theft: In recent years, theft of property through fraudulent deeds has become an increasing problem for Philadelphia residents.

To minimize your risk, check that the appropriate authorities have your correct mailing information at all times in order to receive timely notices about your property. 

The City of Philadelphia Records Department has a Document Notice Program that attempts to combat fraud by informing property owners of real estate transactions that are registered with the City. By notifying property owners, the City is giving owners an opportunity to take corrective action after their property has been transferred fraudulently.

To further protect yourself when your property is vacant, make regular visits to ensure that no one has taken up residence illegally.

If you find something is wrong, immediately notify the Register of Deeds and local law enforcement. If you can, consult an attorney to help confirm ownership of the property, before it is sold to a third party. After that happens, it can be very difficult to retrieve your property.

Rental/Lease Fraud: These crimes occur when perpetrators pretend to be the rightful property owners and solicit tenants to rent the property or try to rent a property that doesn’t exist. 

Property owners, protect yourselves by ensuring your mailing address is always current and by making frequent, in-person visits. 

Renters, minimize your risk by never paying by cash or a wire transfer and by never providing a down payment or security deposit without seeing the property first. Also, work with a reputable property manager.

Contractor Cases: These cases involve breach of contract or criminal theft. They can be difficult to prove and can take a long time to investigate.

Cases are reviewed to determine if there was an intent to steal at the outset, whereby the contractor pockets a down payment and fails to do any of the work, or the contractor does a portion of the work and leaves the rest incomplete claiming they require more money than what was in the initial estimate. 

Consumers, take the following preventive measures:

  • Research the company thoroughly and check with the Better Business Bureau.
  • Ask for copies of building permits and licenses.
  • Avoid large down payments.
  • Put a written contract in place where the homeowner and contractor must both sign off on the scope of the project, as well as all supplies and materials, before execution.

Public Adjuster Cases: With increasing regularity, we receive complaints about public adjusters who cash insurance checks without the endorsement of the homeowner and then refuse to give the money to the victim. 

Without this money, the victims cannot afford still-needed repairs or are forced to use their own money for repairs in order to get back in their homes. In some cases, the insurance company may drop their coverage if repairs are not completed, leaving the complainants doubly victimized. 

The cases we prosecute range in amounts from several thousand dollars to over one hundred thousand dollars.

Theft/Embezzlement: These complex cases can range from stealing money from a friend to embezzling hundreds of thousands of dollars from an employer over multiple years. 

These kinds of cases can also involve abuse of Power of Attorney, where a caregiver pays themself an amount that far exceeds their duties and leaves an already-vulnerable victim destitute. 

Theft by deception cases are also becoming more common, where a victim is enticed into a business venture with false promises and the hope of a large return based on misleading information. 

Insurance Fraud: When a deliberate attempt to stage an accident, injury, theft, arson or other type of loss that would be covered under an insurance policy is reported by an insurance company or the public, we investigate. 

We prosecute auto, homeowners and health insurance crimes of all sizes and types, from those involving individual defendants to large-scale Grand Jury investigations. 

Financial Institution Fraud and Identity Theft: We work with other law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes involving check-kiting schemes and credit-card theft rings. 

These crimes are usually large-scale operations that also involve identity theft and cyber crimes. One of the fastest growing crimes in America, identity theft happens when someone assumes the identity of another, usually to obtain goods or services under the victim’s credit. Cyber crimes happen when co-conspirators are recruited over the Internet. 

Protect yourself by never providing personal information over the phone and always ensuring that a payment platform is secure prior to making online transactions.

Government Fraud: We investigate and prosecute the illegal use of government benefits by individuals or companies, which could include those involving food stamps, Medicare and Medicaid, SNAP and child care benefits and/or child care certification.

Unemployment Compensation: Funded by a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, we investigate and prosecute cases involving individuals, businesses or both illegally taking or applying for unemployment benefits. 

We also examine cases where employers do not pay into the Unemployment Compensation Fund for their employees, and occurrences where the regulations governing the use and application of unemployment benefits have been circumvented or manipulated. 

Workers’ Compensation: Workers’ compensation crimes happen when an employee falsely and knowingly files a claim or misrepresents an injury to obtain benefits. 

It also happens when employers commit criminal fraud by denying workers’ compensation benefits or avoid responsibility under the law by misrepresenting the amount of payroll or classification of their employees or by failing to maintain the required amount of workers’ compensation insurance coverage. 

Wage Fraud: Wage theft prosecutions usually involve construction or service-industry workers getting paid under the table, not being paid minimum wage or overtime. Cases can also involve undocumented workers being ripped off by their employer. 

The prosecutor who oversees these cases is a former labor-rights attorney, well experienced in going after companies and business owners engaging in these unlawful practices.

Consumer Fraud:  Our prosecutors will investigate consumer complaints when appropriate, typically involving the unfair or illegal practices of Philadelphia businesses. 

Following an 18-month Grand Jury investigation, in one case, we brought charges against a North Philadelphia tow truck company that was overcharging vulnerable drivers following automobile accidents.

Elder Justice:  Crimes targeting senior citizens, who may be particularly vulnerable to fraudsters and scammers for a variety of reasons, are particularly egregious and a special focus of our unit. 

Many of these crimes are conducted over the telephone, door-to-door, or through advertising—any way criminals can reach elderly victims. They can involve schemes related to credit cards, sweepstakes or contests, health insurance or prescriptions, home repair, investments, banking or wire transfers.

Protect your loved one by talking with them about blocking solicitors, setting up safeguards at the bank or working with the bank to arrange for limited account oversight.