Nashville, TN -- The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) today issued a reminder that aggressive action will be taken against any criminal attempt to defraud the federal government in connection with victims of Tennessee's tornadoes, severe storms and flooding.
"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," said John D. White, director of TEMA.
Special agents from FEMA's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) use a number of methods to detect fraud. The OIG leads multi-jurisdictional fraud task forces that can include the U.S. Small Business Administration, the FBI and the Army. First, an automated system crosschecks information with other agencies and insurance companies to weed out duplicate applications. Field inspectors verify losses and damages for every person who applies to FEMA for individual assistance. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred for investigation and prosecution as federal offenses. Persons convicted of claiming false losses can face a five- to 10-year prison term and up to $250,000 in fines.
People who made a mistake when reporting damage, or who may have misrepresented their losses, have the opportunity to cancel their claim. Individuals may call the Helpline at 1-800-621-FEMA (3362), or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for the hearing or speech-impaired, to withdraw or correct an application.
Anyone who knows of someone who has filed false damage claims or committed any other disaster-related fraud may report the incident to the Fraud Hotline at 1-800-323-8603. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and caller identification will remain confidential.
The calls may be answered by a recorded message. Calls can be taken in both Spanish and English. The caller will be asked a few questions and the information will be assigned to a field investigator. If the caller left their name and phone number, the investigator will call them back, not the person who took the call.
Conducting audits and investigating possible fraud is standard procedure in all federal disaster operations. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes cases that result in criminal charges.