With so much disaster assistance being distributed to Louisiana hurricane victims, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is working to ensure that disaster relief funds goes only to those legally entitled to receive it in Louisiana. Both state and federal officials are actively doing everything possible to avoid fraud.
Enter federal investigators, including the DHS’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the U.S. Department of Justice. These authorities, along with other federal agencies, investigate cases of fraud, waste, and abuse of federal disaster funds.
“In every disaster, there are always a few unscrupulous individuals who want to profit from the recovery effort,” said Federal Coordinating Officer Scott Wells. “We are determined to see that those people are not allowed to receive disaster loans and grants fraudulently.”
That includes people who file false damage claims, try to collect for damage not storm related, or misrepresent themselves in any way.
People have been charged with criminal violations related to FEMA relief funds in the immediate aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Convictions can lead to a maximum of five years imprisonment and fines up to $250,000 per count.
There are several ways for government officials to detect fraud. One is through an electronic process that cross-checks information from FEMA, its partner agencies, and insurance companies to detect duplicate or fraudulent applications. Additionally, homes of applicants are inspected to verify damages and losses claimed. All suspected cases of fraud are referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for investigation and possible prosecution.
Wells said any applicant who has made a mistake in reporting damages or misrepresented losses will be given an opportunity to correct or cancel the claim.
Anyone who makes an error when submitting a claim can contact the FEMA Helpline. The number is 1-800-621-3362 (or 1-800-462-7585, for those with speech or hearing difficulties).
Persons with knowledge of disaster fund fraud can call FEMA’s Office of Inspector General, toll-free, at 1-866-720-5721. Or they may write to Katrina Fraud Hotline, The Pentagon, Washington, D.C. 20301-1900; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; or fax: (703) 604-8567. All such information is confidential. Those who call or write do not have to reveal their names.
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