As the floodwaters begin to recede in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and the torturous clean-up effort begins, there is a new threat emerging from this latest environmental disaster — fraud. It is a concern not only for the victims of Harvey, but also for the volunteers trying to help with the relief effort. This from a recent NPR interview with Corey Amundson, the United States Attorney who heads the National Center for Disaster Fraud.
According to Amundson, it starts with charity fraud, contractor fraud and emergency assistance fraud, and evolves into program fraud as the financial assistance begins to flow in from the federal government. He runs a 24/7 fraud hotline and they already are hearing about two major categories of fraud: (i) individuals impersonating FEMA inspectors, insurance inspectors and National Flood Insurance Program inspectors, and (ii) fraudulent relief submissions from individuals filing claims on property they do not own or with social security numbers that belong to someone else.
Then of course are all the fraudulent charities trying to take advantage of the goodwill of so many wishing to contribute money to the cause. Amundson offers the following advice to those seeking to provide financial support:
- Do not respond to any emails soliciting donations and do not open any email attachments or links.
- Look out for charity names that sound somewhat familiar but are just slightly off.
- Only work with charities you know and trust and only work directly with them, not with people claiming to working on their behalf.
- Bullying or intimidation is a red flag for fraud.
The bottom line according to Amundson is that “if something feels off, it probably is. And I would encourage people to use their common sense and their gut in dealing with some of these issues because as much as we can try to identify all the different ways criminals might try to victimize people, it won’t be an exhaustive list.” Definitely words for the wise as we consider all the ways we can help the victims of Hurricane Harvey.
* * *If you would like more information or would like to speak to a member of Constantine Cannon’s whistleblower lawyer team, please click here.