Editor's Note: Considering the all hazards model of disaster and counterterrorism planning, this article is good information for first responders as well as community members.
January 31, 2010 - From the start of a disaster recovery operation through the end, the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) take the issue of fraud and abuse very seriously and continue to urge Texans to report any suspicious activities.
“Fraud is a rare occurrence during disaster recovery,” said Hurricane Ike Recovery Manager Brad Harris. “However, if it does occur, it is important that we take steps to stop it.”
“At the beginning of recovery operations, we encourage survivors to be aware of phony contract workers, fake offers of help getting state or federal aid and bogus charitable solicitations,” said State Coordinating Officer Ben Patterson. “Sixteen months into the recovery some of these fraudulent activities may still exist.”
Texans should consider reporting suspected fraud and abuse if:
• Someone asks for a relief fund donation for an unknown charitable organization or the person soliciting the donation requests the check be made out to a private individual.
• Someone claiming to be from FEMA comes to their home, calls or emails them and asks for their social security number, bank account number, FEMA registration number or other sensitive information.
• Someone claiming to be a building contractor knocks on their door and offers to make repairs or clean up debris.
FEMA must ensure that taxpayer dollars go only to people who incurred legitimate losses. This may include prosecuting anyone who makes a fraudulent claim. Anyone with information about individuals – maybe a contractor, inspector, disaster survivor, or someone posing as any of these – who may have defrauded the government in connection with Hurricane Ike, should call the FEMA Fraud Hotline at 1-866-720-5721. The call is completely confidential. Allegations of fraud can also be made to local law-enforcement agencies and to the Texas Attorney General Consumer Protection Hotline, 1-800-621-0508. FEMA’s Office of Inspector General routinely audits individuals, local governments and nonprofit organizations that receive FEMA disaster assistance funding. The audits are independent assessments to determine whether recipients spent the funds according to federal regulations and FEMA guidelines. Auditors look at expenditures on ineligible items or instances of duplicate payments from insurance companies and other sources.