Justice Department Announces Department-Wide Response to Disaster Fraud
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein announced today that the Justice Department has issued a memorandum to all 94 U.S. Attorney’s Offices (USAO) and heads of the department’s law enforcement agencies providing, for the first time, department-wide guidance relating to the coordination, investigation, and prosecution of disaster fraud allegations.
“The Justice Department is committed to pursuing any fraudsters seeking to capitalize on the tragedy and will devote the necessary resources to do so,” said Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. “It is imperative that the department is able to properly track and manage its response to claims of disaster fraud and that agencies receive timely and relevant investigative leads and other relevant information. By working together, we can ensure that federal emergency relief funds are properly distributed to those who need them most and that taxpayers are not victimized by fraudsters or other criminals.”
The National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) has already received hundreds of complaints across the country. The NCDF has remained operational since its inception following Hurricane Katrina and is specifically designed to be ready for situations like Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria. NCDF has an excellent staff of investigators, analysts, call center operators, and managers prepared to handle the anticipated volume.
The memo issued establishes a department-wide policy that stresses the importance of establishing a disaster fraud point-of-contact, directing all disaster fraud complaints to the NCDF, notifying the NCDF about any disaster-related enforcement actions, ensuring proper resources are dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of disaster fraud matters, directing U.S. Attorneys in districts impacted by recent hurricanes to establish regional disaster fraud task forces, as well as including the NCDF hotline in all disaster fraud external communications. The memo can be found here.
U.S. Attorney Offices in the Southern District of Texas, District of Puerto Rico, Southern District of Florida, Middle District of Florida and Northern District of Florida have already established task forces comprised of local, state and federal agencies in their respective areas to combat disaster fraud.
Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before trusting anyone purporting to be working on behalf of disaster victims. Members of the public who suspect fraud involving disaster relief efforts, 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Learn more about the National Center for Disaster Fraud at www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud.