Residents and business owners in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties are encouraged to apply for disaster assistance if they suffered damages or losses as a result of the severe storms which occurred from Dec. 27, 2004 through Jan. 11, 2005. At the same time, federal and state officials are warning that a system is in place to identify fraudulent applicants.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) say disasters always bring forth a small number of people who try to cash in on others’ misfortunes by misrepresenting themselves as disaster victims in order to receive assistance intended for eligible persons.
“Federal disaster aid is paid with taxpayers’ money,” said David Fukutomi, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer. “While we do not want to discourage anyone from applying for federal assistance, we will enforce the law to protect honest citizens and keep disaster funds out of the wrong hands.”
Fukutomi said a number of methods are used to detect fraud. An automated system crosschecks information with other agencies, and applicants are asked about insurance coverage to weed out duplication of benefits. Field inspections are conducted to verify losses and damages for every person who applies.
Conducting audits and investigating possible fraudulent activities is standard procedure in all federal disaster operations. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred to the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Inspector General (OIG). Anyone with knowledge of fraud, waste or abuse relating to disaster contracts, programs or personnel is encouraged to call the OIG Fraud Hotline at 1-800-323-8603.
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