Baton Rouge, LA -- Reporting applicants making fraudulent claims to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is an important step in identifying the small percentage of disaster assistance claimants who try to cash in on the misfortune of others. These bogus claims take unfair advantage of taxpayer money.
Deputy Federal Coordinating Officer Richard Cruse and State Coordinating Officer Art Jones both agree that managing a multi-million dollar disaster program always means walking a fine line between bringing speedy service to those who need it and ensuring that taxpayer dollars are not misused.
Special agents from FEMA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) use a number of methods to detect fraud. First, an automated system cross checks information with other agencies and insurance companies to weed out duplicate applications. Field inspections are conducted to verify losses and damages for every person who applies to FEMA for individual assistance. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred for prosecution as federal offenses.
If you know of someone who is filing false damage claims with FEMA, you should report this or other instances of fraud, waste or abuse to the Fraud Hotline, 800-323-8603. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Caller identification will remain confidential. To date more than 500 calls have been registered from Louisiana.
The calls may be answered by a recorded message. The caller will be asked a few questions. The information will be entered into the data system and assigned to a field investigator. If the caller left their name and phone number, it will be the investigator who will call them back and not the person who took the call. An inspector has 90 days to verify the complaint. Calls can be taken in both Spanish and English.
Conducting audits and investigating possible fraudulent activities is standard procedure in all federal disaster operations. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes cases that result in criminal charges.
OIG will investigate all reports of fraud and urges all Louisiana residents with any knowledge of fraud, waste or abuse involving FEMA contracts, programs or personnel to call the hotline.
Persons claiming false losses can be charged with a felony and, if convicted, face a maximum five- to 10-year prison term and/ up to $250,000 in fines.
The OIG operates the FEMA Fraud Hotline and leads multi-jurisdictional fraud task forces that can include the U.S. Small Business Administration, the FBI and the Army.
Any applicant who has made a simple mistake when reporting damage or has misrepresented losses will have the opportunity to correct or cancel their claim. Individuals need to call FEMA's Helpline, 800-621-FEMA, the same number they called when they registered, to withdraw or correct an application and prevent prosecution.