Scamming Uncle Sam: Do fraudulent FEMA claims hurt legitimate claims?

FEMA says people have been trying to file claims for homes they don't own, which is a felony.

We received a message from a viewer concerned about fraudulent FEMA claims.

The viewer says she's heard stories of people applying for FEMA and claiming losses that are not accurate.
          
The viewer claims she knows people who have gotten checks for upwards $1,700 who do not have qualifying damage to their homes.

The viewer didn't want to go on camera, but says she is worried people who actually need financial assistance after Hurricane Irma, won't get it.

We spoke to Gary Petty, a FEMA representative who says fraudulent claim payouts do not affect payouts to legitimate claims.

Petty says if a person applies for federal grant money and is approved, they will get the cash needed to make their home livable again.

"However, there is an element of society that will try to take advantage of the American taxpayer," Petty said.

Petty told us about a case from Hurricane Katrina.

"There were three people living in a household and all three applied for individual assistance when only one should've applied," Petty said.

Petty says FEMA assistance is per household not per individual.

Whether the trio intentionally tried to get one over on the system, Petty is not sure, but says the money had to be paid back.

According to FEMA

"Special agents from the Office of Inspector General use a number of methods to detect fraud. An 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 for every person who applies to FEMA for individual assistance. Potential cases of fraud or misuse are referred for prosecution as federal offenses.

Conducting audits and investigating possible fraudulent activities is standard procedure in all federal disaster operations. The U.S. Department of Justice prosecutes cases that result in criminal charges.

Any applicant who has made a mistake when reporting damage or has misrepresented losses has the opportunity to correct or cancel their claim. Individuals need to call FEMA's Helpline, 1-800-621-FEMA, to withdraw or correct an application and prevent prosecution."


If someone is caught trying to scam Uncle Sam, there are penalties, according to Petty.

"Fines up to $200,000 and that could include prison time as well," Petty explained.

The conviction could carry a 5- to-10-year prison sentence.

If you know of someone who is filing false damage claims with FEMA, you should report this or other instances of fraud, waste or abuse to the Fraud Hotline at 1-800-323-8603.

You can also fax a complaint to -202-254-4292, fill out an online form on the Office of Inspector General website at www.oig.dhs.gov or send mail to: Office of Inspector General/MAIL STOP 0305, Department of Homeland Security, 245 Murray Drive SW, Building 410, Washington, DC 20528.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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