Desperate times, desperate people
On the morning she realized her husband and son would learn the family was losing their house, Carlene Balderrama, 53, faxed a note to the mortgage company, then went to the basement and shot herself."I hope you're more compassionate with my husband than you were with me," she wrote in a suicide note left for the company.It is a dramatic picture of the worst that financial stress can wring. As home foreclosures and unemployment mount, so do their companion tales of fraud, robbery, arson and even murder. And though suicides remain rare, evidence that financial stress is erupting in rash, often illegal behavior isn't difficult to find."A lot of people, they just feel hopeless," said Kita Curry, a psychologist and the president of Didi Hirsch Community Mental Health Center in Los Angeles, where the crisis line has seen a 20% jump calls from people citing financial woes. Centers in other cities are reporting as much as a 65% increase in calls."If you've been evicted from your home and you've lost your job and they're talking about unemployment rising, then what are you going to do?"Desperate acts in down economiesIt's too early in the current downturn for national data crunchers to accurately observe fluctuations in suicides or crimes. And even then, analysts have a difficult time isolating motive, which is elusive. The underlying causes of crime trends always remain in dispute.The fraud data are also incomplete because insurance companies generally don't release comprehensive figures, said Frank Scafidi, a spokesman for the National Insurance Crime Bureau, a nonprofit that investigates fraud for the insurance industry."Most of us have a sense that when the economy's bad, people will do things that they wouldn't normally do, especially insurance fraud, but that's nothing more than a sense that people have," he said.Still, the anecdotal indicators are hard to ignore. Nationwide, crimes of desperation are increasingly being chalked up to economic anxiety.