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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Join FEMA in Protecting Disaster Survivors from Fraud and Scams

This year’s unusually active hurricane season is bringing strong and destructive storms that are leaving survivors in vulnerable situations, especially considering their arrival during a pandemic. Unfortunately, this vulnerability attracts scammers who intend to take advantage of those survivors during these stressful times. Given the increasing number of people with an online presence – through banking, shopping, and many other social communications — National Cybersecurity Awareness Month is the perfect moment to reiterate the need for vigilance in this area.

The appearance of con artists during disasters is not a new story, so FEMA’s emergency managers strive to inform disaster survivors about scams, identity theft and other fraudulent behaviors that follow in disaster’s wake. When we suspect fraudulent behavior, FEMA and our federal partners take active measures against those bad actors and sanction them appropriately. FEMA actively monitors the use of agency logos and trademarks and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal, and we have successfully removed unauthorized products and fraudulent websites seeking online donations.

You can also help prevent scams whether they come via phone, in a text, by mail or email, through websites, or in person. Remember that federal and state workers always carry identification and will never ask for money or fees to provide disaster assistance. Additionally, our FEMA websites will be identified as official U.S. Government sites and will never accept credit card information for payments or donations.

If something about a situation makes you feel uncomfortable or you suspect fraud, report it to local law enforcement or the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-223-0814.

Preventing Disaster Fraud

Our mission to help people before, during and after disasters means we provide financial grants and assistance to individuals and communities through a variety of disaster preparedness, mitigation and relief programs. FEMA receives applications for grant, insurance and loan programs ranging in size from hundreds of dollars for individuals, to millions of dollars for supply contracts to support emergency response and recovery efforts.

The taxpayer dollars entrusted to FEMA come with a responsibility to ensure these funds go to the right place at the right time and are used for their intended purposes. Our system has checks and balances to combat fraud. One way we facilitate this is through the work of FEMA’s Fraud Investigations and Inspections Division, which has the authority to investigate allegations of fraud, waste and abuse of FEMA funds in all 50 states and five U.S. territories.

Examples of this work include:

  • Fraudulent claims often arise after hurricanes, such as applicants for FEMA Individual Assistance funds who falsely claim the loss of their small fishing boats as their primary residences. FEMA has coordinated with the DHS Office of the Inspector General to uncover fraudulent claims and prevent funds from being inappropriately disbursed.
  • The DHS Inspector General with assistance from FEMA also investigated a grant writer who provided false information to obtain a FEMA Firefighter Grant, and then sold their company’s products to their fire department using the same grant money. The fraudulent claims to gain eligibility for the grant led to their arrest on charges of wire fraud and making false statements, resulting in a 24-month prison sentence, three years of supervised release, and an order to pay $403,355 in restitution.

These investigations, and many others, have improved FEMA’s controls as we work to combat an increase in fraudulent activity in the wake of severe disasters along with identity theft schemes that more than tripled fraud complaints from 2,910 in 2017 to 9,060 in 2018.

FEMA also identifies best practices, including data mining, pattern recognition, awareness training and other techniques to proactively mitigate and stop fraud – often before funds are disbursed. In addition, FEMA coordinates and shares information with other federal and state partners to improve fraud-prevention efforts across the nation.

Whenever FEMA’s emergency managers are in the field, our core values of compassion, fairness, integrity, and respect guide us. Even though FEMA’s work can appear technical, the people who need our help in the aftermath of disasters are always at the forefront of everything we do.

Our goal is to ensure that Americans are confident that FEMA will be there not only to protect and support individuals before, during and after disasters but to also serve as responsible stewards of taxpayer dollars. When that happens, we have more resources to support our fellow citizens whenever – and wherever – help is needed.

If you suspect disaster fraud, report it your local law enforcement authority or the FEMA Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-223-0814.

Peter Gaynor
Peter Gaynor
On January 11, 2021, Peter T. Gaynor was designated as the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security. Mr. Gaynor was officially confirmed by the U.S. Senate to be FEMA Administrator on January 14, 2020. Previously, he served as the Senate-confirmed Deputy FEMA Administrator. Since his selection by the President, Mr. Gaynor led FEMA’s response to over 300 presidentially declared emergencies and major disasters. Mr. Gaynor oversaw the agency’s close collaboration with federal, state, local, tribal and territorial partners, making it possible to serve millions of Americans in their time of need through locally executed, state managed and federally supported disaster response. During the historic year of 2020, Mr. Gaynor oversaw FEMA’s first ever operational response to a nationwide pandemic while simultaneously responding to a record amount of disasters. As a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Mr. Gaynor directed FEMA’s operational coordination for the whole-of-Government response to COVID-19. During this time, FEMA deployed over 5,300 staff and obligated over $57 billion from the Disaster Relief Fund in support of the nationwide pandemic response. In 2020, Mr. Gaynor led the federal response to the most active Atlantic hurricane season in history, with a record of 30 named storms. Mr. Gaynor also directed the response to a historic West Coast wildfire season, resulting in 78 Fire Management Assistance Grant declarations to assist governments in fighting wildfires. As Administrator, Mr. Gaynor oversaw FEMA’s award of the agency’s largest infrastructure project grants in history to assist with Puerto Rico’s ongoing recovery from hurricanes Irma and Maria. Gaynor has more than 13 years of experience in emergency management. Prior to coming to FEMA, Gaynor served as the Director of Rhode Island’s Emergency Management Agency (RIEMA) in 2015. During that time, RIEMA responded to numerous small and large disasters, including one presidentially declared disaster and at least seven pre-existing active federal disasters. Gaynor oversaw response and recovery efforts to blizzards, floods, tropical storms and public health emergencies. He also coordinated evacuations, mass care, special events, and school safety. Gaynor served as the policy advisor to Governor Gina Raimondo on emergency management matters. He was also the Chair of the State Interoperable Communications Committee, the State Emergency Response Commission, and was Vice Chair of the State Emergency Management Advisory Committee. Additionally, he served as a Commissioner and a member for the Program Review Committee for the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP), which fosters excellence and accountability in emergency management and homeland security programs across the nation. From March 2008 to December 2014, Gaynor served as the Director of the Providence Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and Office of Homeland Security, where he was the only Certified Emergency Manager assigned as a municipal emergency manager in Rhode Island. He was responsible for ensuring the planning and operations of the agency, coordinating community exercise programs, managing the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and advising the Mayor of the City of Providence on local government emergency operations. During his tenure at RIEMA and PEMA, Gaynor oversaw multiple response and recovery operations and managed numerous federally declared disasters. Under Pete Gaynor’s leadership, in 2010, PEMA became the first municipality in the United States to receive accreditation from EMAP. In 2017, Rhode Island became the 36th state to be EMAP-accredited, making Gaynor the first emergency management director awarded EMAP accreditation at the local and state levels. In January 2018, under Gaynor’s direction, Rhode Island was the first state designated as StormReady by the National Weather Service. Gaynor was awarded the International Association of Emergency Managers USA & Global Partners in Preparedness Award for Operation SMART EXIT, a planned full-scale evacuation of several high-rise commercial buildings in Downtown Providence, RI. Prior to his experience as an emergency manager, Gaynor served for 26 years as an enlisted Marine and Infantry Officer in the United States Marine Corps. During his tenure in the Marines, he was assigned as the Executive Officer responsible for the security of Presidential Retreat, Camp David; assigned as the Head of Plans, Policy, & Operations at the Headquarters Marine Corps during the September 11, 2001 attacks; and deployed in support of Iraqi Freedom with the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force where he coordinated combat operations in the Al-Anbar Province of Iraq for Multi-National and Marine forces. Gaynor received a bachelor’s degree in history from Rhode Island College and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the Naval War College in Newport, RI. He is also a graduate of the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s Executive Leaders Program.

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