The federal U.S. Attorney’s Office and local V.I. Attorney General’s Office have put together a task force to combat people using the hurricane disaster to scam people, acting U.S. Attorney for the Virgin Islands Joycelyn Hewlett announced Monday.
Hewlett is urging people and businesses to immediately report suspected fraudulent activity related to recovery and clean-up operations, fake charities claiming to be providing relief for victims, individuals submitting false claims for disaster relief, and any other disaster fraud-related activity.
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, according to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office. In fact, in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the U.S. Department of Justice National Center for Disaster Fraud has already received more than 400 complaints. 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 from profits from recovery and cleanup efforts; — Price gouging;
— Theft, looting, and other violent crime.
Anyone who suspects fraud, waste, abuse, or allegations of mismanagement involving disaster relief operations, or believe they have been the victim of fraud from a person or organization soliciting relief funds on behalf of disaster victims, should contact the National Disaster Fraud Hotline toll free at (866) 720-5721. The telephone line is staffed by a live operator 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also fax information to the Center at (225) 334-4707, or email it to email@example.com.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office cannot receive incoming calls at its usual telephone numbers at this time so use the following temporary number to call the St. Thomas or St. Croix office: (703) 285-0852.
“Unfortunately, criminals exploit disasters such as hurricanes for their own gain,” Hewlett said. “We will aggressively investigate and prosecute anyone who commits disaster fraud, so if you are aware of fraud, please call the National Disaster Fraud Hotline.”
“Whether it is price gouging on life sustaining commodities, fraudulent activity involving government vendors, home contractors, or insurance fraud, the Attorney General’s Office stands ready to work with the U.S. Attorney’s Office and the other task force members to combat disaster fraud in the Territory,” V.I. Attorney General Claude Walker said in the joint statement.
The U.S. Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud to investigate, prosecute, and deter fraud in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region. Its mission has expanded to include suspected fraud from any natural or manmade disaster. More than 30 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the National Center for Disaster Fraud, which allows the center to act as a centralized clearinghouse of information related to disaster relief fraud.