As the 2019 hurricane season begins, the Department of Justice reminds the public to be on the lookout for fraud against natural disaster victims, and report it to the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF). The Atlantic Hurricane Season opened June 1 and runs through November 30.
“Committing fraud against natural disaster victims is an inexcusable crime,” said Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen. “It is important for people to be on the lookout for fraudsters who seek to profit from natural disasters through identity theft schemes and solicitations for fake charities. The Department of Justice is committed to detecting this type of fraud, and we will aggressively prosecute the offenders. Through our National Center for Disaster Fraud, and in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, we are working to keep Americans from becoming victims of these schemes.”
The Department of Justice established the NCDF in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region, which opened opportunities for criminals to exploit people during vulnerable times. The NCDF, a national coordinating agency within the Department’s Criminal Division, operates a call center at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and serves as a centralized clearinghouse for disaster fraud complaints and information relating to both natural and man-made disasters. The NCDF seeks to improve and further the detection, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of fraud related to natural and man-made disasters, and to advocate for victims of such fraud. More than 20 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the NCDF, which allows them to forward on complaints to the appropriate agency for investigation.
Numerous U.S. Attorneys’ offices in districts impacted by recent hurricanes have established task forces comprised of local, state and federal agencies in their respective areas to combat disaster fraud.
“The Department of Justice and the NCDF is committed to ensuring each report of disaster fraud reaches the appropriate investigative agency. Do not let disaster strike twice. Report suspected disaster fraud to the NCDF, which has an excellent staff of investigators, analysts, call center operators, and managers who are well prepared to handle the anticipated volume of complaints during hurricane season,” said U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin for the Middle District of Louisiana, who is also the NCDF’s Executive Director.
Eighteen major disaster declarations have already been declared in 2019 for events including recent storms, tornadoes, and flooding across the Midwest; Typhoon Wutip in Guam; and severe winter storms and mudslides in Oregon, California. Unfortunately, and inevitably, natural and man-made disasters will continue to occur across our great nation. These terrible and often tragic events leave many people without food, water, or shelter, and often cause devastating damage to life and property. Nevertheless, there are criminals ready to take advantage of victims before, during, and especially after a natural disaster. They are looking to strike those at their most vulnerable time.
While compassion, assistance, and solidarity are generally prevalent in the aftermath of natural disasters, unscrupulous individuals and organizations also use these tragic events to take advantage of those in need. Examples of illegal activity being reported to the NCDF and law enforcement include:
- Impersonation of federal law enforcement officials;
- Identity theft;
- Fraudulent submission of claims to insurance companies and the federal government;
- Fraudulent activity related to solicitations for donations and charitable giving;
- Fraudulent activity related to individuals and organizations promising high investment returns via profits from recovery and cleanup efforts;
- Price gouging;
- Contractor Fraud;
- Debris removal fraud;
- Theft, looting, and other violent crime
Members of the public are reminded to be extremely cautious before providing personal identifying or financial information to anyone, especially those who may contact you after a natural disaster. They are also reminded to report suspected waste, fraud, abuse, or allegations of criminal conduct. If members of the public believe they have been the victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, they are strongly encouraged to contact the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free by phone at (866) 720-5721, email at email@example.com, or fax at (225) 334-4707. The telephone line is staffed by live operators 24 hours a day, seven days a week.