LITTLE ROCK, Ark. -- The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) instructs victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita to be cautious when applying for individual and housing assistance as fraudulent contractors and scam artists are not uncommon in the wake of disasters.
FEMA reminds individuals that claiming false disaster losses to receive federal assistance is a felony offense, carrying a fine up to $250,000 and a maximum of 10 years in prison. This notification follows a report released earlier this week by the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force showing many indictments of individuals for fraud.
"We have absolutely no tolerance for fraud -- not against FEMA, not against the American taxpayer, our voluntary partners and certainly not against the victims of this disaster," said Acting FEMA Director David Paulison. "The Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force has our full support, and we want to see anyone guilty of fraud prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
FEMA urges victims to use caution when using non-FEMA or federal government Internet sites and (800) numbers when filing for financial assistance because many individuals seek to profit illegally with scams targeted to disaster victims. Registering with FEMA should be done by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (TTY 1-800-462-7585) or by going online to www.fema.gov .
FEMA encourages anyone who believes they may have witnessed fraudulent activity to report it immediately through the Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General's Hurricane Relief Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721.
FEMA prepares the nation for all hazards and manages federal response and recovery efforts following any national incident. FEMA also initiates mitigation activities, trains first responders, works with state and local emergency managers, and manages the National Flood Insurance Program and the U.S. Fire Administration. FEMA became part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on March 1, 2003.