PAGO PAGO, American Samoa – More than $22 million in federal assistance has been approved for residents and business owners affected by Cyclone Heta, report disaster recovery officials. Because of the large amount of taxpayer money involved, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), in partnership with the American Samoa Government, is seeking to identify the small percentage of disaster assistance applicants who try to cash in on the misfortune of others.
“Our responsibility involves giving financial aid to people in need and, at the same time, ensuring that the taxpayers' money is not misused," said Thomas J. Costello of FEMA, federal coordinating officer. “Therefore, we employ a number of methods to detect fraud. Our 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.”
Making false statements to a FEMA inspector is a crime prosecuted under Title 18 of the United States Code. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, for prosecution. Punishment for felony offenses include severe criminal and civil penalties: a fine of up to $250,000, imprisonment, or both.
People who made a mistake or misrepresented their losses when they registered with FEMA may correct or cancel their claim – and prevent prosecution – by calling the local FEMA Helpline at 633-3036. Anyone who knows of someone who has filed false damage claims or perpetrated any other disaster-related fraud, may report the matter to the 633-3036 Helpline or to the FEMA Inspector General’s Fraud Hotline at 0111-800-323-8603.
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.