Teams of special agents from at least 10 federal government agencies have been dispatched to investigate a multitude of fraudulent claims that have arisen from the rubble of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, Richard Skinner, inspector general of the Department of Homeland Security, has announced.
False disaster claims or theft of government property, prosecuted by the Justice Department, are felonies carrying maximum penalties of 10 years imprisonment or $250,000 fine – or both.
â€œThrough computer databases, informant tips, and hotline tips, we are receiving information of fraudulent claims,â€ Skinner said. â€œThose who have made such claims, whether to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or any other government entity, should take stock of their situation and seriously consider withdrawing their claims or voluntarily returning monies already disbursed to them,â€ he added.
FEMA officials urged victims of the storms to beware of suspected criminal activity involving disaster assistance programs. Anyone can make an anonymous report by calling the toll-free Hurricane Relief Fraud Hotline, 1-866-720-5721, 24 hours a day, seven days a week until further notice. Information can also be emailed to the inspector general at firstname.lastname@example.org or sent by surface mail, with as many details as possible, to:
Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC. 20528
Attn: Office of Inspector General, Hotline
The Department of Justice Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force and Federal Trade Commission Consumer Response Center will also accept disaster fraud information. To provide information to the Justice Department, access the FBIâ€™s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. The Federal Trade Commission accepts disaster fraud information on its toll-free line, 1-877-382-4357 or TTY 202-326-2502 for persons with speech or hearing impairment.
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