4 Hurricane Irma-Affected U.S. Attorney Offices Form Fraud Task Forces

September 19, 2017

The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) along with U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in the District of Puerto Rico, Southern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida and Northern District of Florida have formed task forces comprised of local, state and federal agencies in their respective areas to combat Hurricane Irma related illegal activity.

The NCDF and U.S. Attorneys in those districts are urging residents and businesses to immediately report suspected fraudulent activity relating to recovery and cleanup operations, fake charities claiming to be providing relief for victims, individuals submitting false claims for disaster relief and any other disaster fraud related activity.

The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the NCDF, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud, according to a statement from the Department of Justice.

“While compassion, assistance, and solidarity are generally prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters, unscrupulous individuals and organizations also use these tragic events to take advantage of those in need,” the statement said.

NCDF noted that in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it had already received more than 400 complaints.

Examples of illegal activity being reported to the NCDF and law enforcement include:

  • Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials;
  • Identity theft;
  • Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government;
  • Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving;
  • Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investment returns from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts;
  • Price gouging;
  • Theft, looting, and other violent crime

“Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,” said Acting Executive Director Corey R. Amundson of the National Center for Disaster Fraud. “Once the NCDF receives a complaint, it routes the complaints to the appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency in the appropriate jurisdiction. In the process, we are able to de-conflict and identify trends, national schemes, and offenders operating in multi-jurisdictions. The Justice Department will aggressively pursue those who commit disaster fraud.”

“Our efforts are directed at enforcing a zero-tolerance policy,” said U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez-Vélez for the District of Puerto Rico. “In the midst of the distress and losses caused by Hurricane Irma and the attending need for recovery and rebuilding, there can be no place for fraud and abuse.”

“As our South Florida community recovers from Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida and our law enforcement partners stand ready to investigate and prosecute in federal court anyone who seeks to re-victimize, defraud or exploit the individuals and businesses in need,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Benjamin G. Greenberg for the Southern District of Florida.

Acting U.S. Attorney W. Stephen Muldrow for the Middle District of Florida and U.S. Attorney Christopher P. Canova for the Northern District of Florida echoed these sentiments, and urged anyone suspecting fraud to call the NCDF Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Information can also be faxed to the Center at (225) 334-4707, or emailed to disaster@leo.gov (link sends e-mail).

Source: U.S. Department of Justice

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