Beckley, WV -- Disaster officials can identify applicants who try to cash in on others' misfortune following a presidential disaster declaration. In past disaster recovery activities, a small percentage of fraudulent applications were made; and those few who tried to cheat were caught and faced serious consequences. Anyone who knowingly makes false statements to obtain disaster aid is in violation of federal and state laws that carry penalties including severe fines or imprisonment up to five years, or both.
To date, more than four thousand applicants for disaster assistance have registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the state for disaster assistance following President Bush's May 5 disaster declaration for storms, floods and landslides in West Virginia.
"Managing multi-million dollar disaster recovery programs always means walking a fine line between our humane responsibility to deliver speedy service to those who really need it; and our fiscal responsibility to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not misused," said Steve Kappa, director of the West Virginia Office of Emergency Services. "A number of methods are used to detect fraud," according to Justo Hernandez, lead federal official for the West Virginia flood recovery effort. "Our automated system cross-checks information with other government agencies and insurance companies to weed out duplicate applications. Field inspections are also conducted to verify losses for every person who applies for disaster assistance. We refer every potential case of fraud or misuse of funds that we discover to the U.S. Justice Department for prosecution."
An applicant who may have made errors when reporting damages can correct his or her claim. Such individuals should immediately call FEMA's toll-free number, 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), to withdraw or correct an application and prevent possible prosecution. Persons with hearing or speech impairment may call the TTY number: 1-800-462-7585. Hours of operation remain 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., seven days a week, until further notice. In addition, if you know of someone who is taking advantage of others' misfortune by filing false damage claims, you are encouraged to report this or other instances of fraud to the FEMA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-323-8603.