- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 14, 2017

Fraudsters aren’t wasting any time when it comes to trying to scam money out of victims of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, according to Justice Department officials.

The National Center for Disaster Fraud has already fielded 400 complaints of disaster-related fraud following the deadly natural disasters that ravaged Texas and Florida, said Corey R. Amundson, the center’s acting executive director.

And if the scope of fraud reported after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 is any indication of what’s to come, federal authorities say they have a lot of work ahead of them.

“If Katrina is a guide, we should expect to be fighting this for a decade after,” said Mr. Amundson, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana.

Since the disaster fraud center was founded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, it received more than 70,000 fraud complaints. Meanwhile, prosecutors across the country brought disaster fraud-related cases against more than 1,400 people following the hurricane and damaging floods.

Many of the complaints under investigation in the wake of Harvey and Irma involve attempts to defraud the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Amundson said. But already the center is also receiving reports of individuals who are impersonating FEMA employees and telling victims they must turn over money or personal information in order to receive federal aid.

The center has also gotten complaints of fake charity solicitations and suspicious ads for inspectors.

“The fraudsters aren’t waiting,” Mr. Amundson said. “They need to know we are coming for them.”

In the wake of Katrina, the federal government estimated that FEMA paid out approximately $500 million to 134,000 people who were ineligible for the aid they received.

Mr. Amundson said the center doesn’t have any estimates as to the breadth of fraud cases federal prosecutors will ultimately handle from these two hurricanes. But he said agencies are now better prepared to detect those types of scams.

“FEMA has increased their fraud preparation since Katrina, so we hope that translates to less fraud generally,” he said.

He encouraged anyone who sees suspicious activity or solicitations to report them to the center’s national hotline.

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