The Department of Justice established the National Center for Disaster Fraud (NCDF) in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, when billions of dollars in federal disaster relief poured into the Gulf Coast region, which opened opportunities for criminals to exploit people during vulnerable times. The NCDF, a national coordinating agency within the Department’s Criminal Division, operates a call center — (866) 720-5721 — at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge and serves as a centralized clearinghouse for disaster fraud complaints and information relating to both natural and man-made disasters. The NCDF seeks to improve and further the detection, prevention, investigation, and prosecution of fraud related to natural and man-made disasters, and to advocate for victims of such fraud. More than 20 federal, state, and local agencies participate in the NCDF, which allows them to forward on complaints to the appropriate agency for investigation.
“Committing fraud against natural disaster victims is an inexcusable crime,” said Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. “We are now in hurricane season, and it is important for people to be on the lookout for fraudsters who seek to profit from natural disasters through identity theft schemes and solicitations for fake charities. The Department of Justice is committed to detecting this type of fraud, and we will aggressively prosecute the offenders. Through our National Center for Disaster Fraud, and in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, we are working to keep Americans from becoming victims of these schemes.”
The recent Carr Fire in California, though largely contained, has caused severe damage; the Pacific hurricane season has already proven to be quite active, as demonstrated by Hurricane Lane’s destructive landfall in Hawaii; and we are already 90 days into the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. Unfortunately, and inevitably, natural and man-made disasters will continue to occur across our great nation. These terrible and often tragic events leave many people without food, water, or shelter, and often cause devastating damage to life and property. Nevertheless, there are criminals ready to take advantage of victims before, during, and especially after a natural disaster. They are looking to strike those at their most vulnerable time.
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. 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;
- Contractor Fraud;
- Debris removal fraud;
- Theft, looting, and other violent crime
Numerous U.S. Attorney Offices in districts impacted by recent hurricanes have established task forces comprised of local, state and federal agencies in their respective areas to combat disaster fraud.
In ongoing efforts to strengthen partnerships and better inform the American people of its mission, the NCDF has joined with Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who was recently installed as the President of the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG), in an effort to spread the message of the NCDF.
“The NCDF has an excellent staff of investigators, analysts, call center operators, and managers who are well prepared to handle the anticipated volume of complaints during hurricane season and help ensure that each report of fraud reaches the appropriate investigative agency,” said U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin for the Middle District of Louisiana, who is also the NCDF’s Executive Director. “Our collaboration with the National Association of Attorneys General and Attorney General Landry is yet another example of our efforts to better serve the American people before, during and after a natural disaster. Raising public awareness by spreading the message of the NCDF through the state attorneys general is a great way for the NCDF to reach thousands of people who may one day be subjected to fraudulent schemes.”
“As president of the National Association of Attorneys General, my goal is to use the next 18 months to gather as much intel as possible so we may better prepare state and federal leaders for future crises,” said Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry. “We are fortunate to have the NCDF right here in Louisiana and it has served as a great resource to our citizens through hurricanes, floods, and other natural disasters. I am proud to team up with U.S. Attorney Fremin and the great men and women at the NCDF as we continue to look for ways to move our Louisiana and other states forward in terms of emergency preparedness and management.”
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 and before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims as well as being extremely cautious before providing personal identifying or financial information to anyone, especially those who may contact you after a natural disaster.