Law enforcement sounding alarm on fraud in wake of hurricanes
WASHINGTON (Sinclair Broadcast Group) —
America watched heroes emerge in the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But, sometimes natural disasters can also bring out the worst in people, and somen predators are taking aim directly at the victims of the storms.
Law enforcement authorities are warning residents to beware of fraudsters looking to cash in.
“The most prevalent has been fraud against FEMA. False applications for FEMA assistance, but we’re also seeing donation fraud, contracting fraud, price gouging and a litany of other kinds of frauds,” said Corey R. Amundson, acting executive director of the National Center for Disaster Fraud.
The number of fraud complaints coming into the National Center for Disaster Fraud is skyrocketing. The center has received over 700 fraud reports related to Harvey and Irma.
“The week before Harvey hit we were getting a 100 a week, a week after Harvey hit we were getting a hundred a day,” Amundson said.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud was formed by the Department of Justice in 2005, following Hurricane Katrina. It was established to crack down on fraud, after billions of relief dollars poured into the region. There were over 1,400 federal prosecutions during Katrina in 49 districts.
Law enforcement officials are also warning of scammers posing as FEMA officials and construction workers who are trying to rip off residents.
In Florida, Martha Supworth fell victim to thieves last year.
“It’s very painful to lose all of these memories that belong to my grandmother before she was married, some things are over 100 years old, you can’t get them back,” said Supworth.
On Wednesday, the Senate Special Committee on Aging examining disaster preparedness and response and the needs of the elderly.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) is concerned about fraud activity in Florida.
“Unscrupulous individuals taking advantage of people affected by the hurricane. We are finding two kinds of scams, in particular, one is a charity scam where people are being solicited for contributions that would go to hurricane victims,” Sen. Collins said. “The second, is home contractor scam where people are coming and offering to do quick repairs people are desperate to get back into their homes and get an up front payment from their victims and they disappear without doing the work.”
Hurricane Maria continues to churn up the Caribbean, already slamming into Puerto Rico. President Trump has declared Puerto Rico a state of emergency, which allows the island to get federal financial assistance.
The National Center for Fraud Disaster operations are 24/7. If you need to report a fraud, call 1-866-720-5721.