LINCOLN, Neb. -- Fraud is a rare occurrence during disaster recovery. However, when it does happen, The Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a responsibility to take action.
People who intentionally try to defraud the government are taking money away from those who are truly in need. FEMA is obligated to make sure taxpayer dollars go only to those people who sustained legitimate losses. This may include prosecuting anyone who makes a fraudulent claim.
Individuals who have made a mistake when reporting damage or who have misrepresented their losses may correct the situation immediately by calling the toll-free FEMA Helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for those with speech or hearing impairments.
FEMA’s Office of Inspector General routinely audits individuals, state and local governments and nonprofit organizations that receive FEMA disaster-recovery funds. The audits are independent assessments to determine whether recipients spent the funds according to federal regulations and FEMA guidelines. Usually audits question expenditures for ineligible items or instances of duplicate payments from insurance companies or other sources.
Most cases where possible fraud is detected are not deliberate attempts to defraud the federal government. Individuals should be certain they use the money they receive from FEMA or the state for the intended purpose. It’s a good idea to keep receipts to show how the money was spent. If individuals have any questions about how the money may be spent they can call the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585 for those who with speech or hearing impairments.
Governments and nonprofit organizations may ask for technical advice from FEMA to be certain they are spending federal monies appropriately. Again, receipts and records are valuable to show how the money is spent.
Anyone with information about individuals who may have defrauded the government in connection with the disaster is encouraged to call the FEMA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-323-8603.
This is also a good time to remind those who sufferd damage or losses from the severe storms, tornadoes and flooding that began on May 20, 2004, to exhibit caution when hiring contractors. Some important points to remember:
- Always ask for identification
- Call the state Attorney General’s Office if you suspect fraudulent dealings.
- Call the state’s contractors licensing board to verify that the contractor you are about to hire has a valid contractor’s license.
- Get a written estimate. NEVER sign a blank contract.
- Don’t use cash to pay a contractor. Pay by check. Have the work inspected. Don’t make final payment until the work is done to your satisfaction.
- DO NOT give your Social Security number to anyone calling you on the telephone. When you call FEMA to register for disaster assistance, they ask for your Social Security at the time you register. But FEMA will not call YOU and ask for that information.
ü Remember: disaster inspectors do not recommend repairs and NEVER charge a fee for any inspection of your home.
On March 1, 2003, FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. FEMA's continuing mission within the new department is to lead the effort to prepare the nation for all hazards and effectively manage federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates proactive mitigation activities, trains first responders, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration.