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U.S. Attorney Hewlett Says Department of Justice Is On The Lookout For Disaster Fraud In The Aftermath of Irma and Maria

CHARLOTTE AMALIE – The U.S. Attorney’s Office announced the formation of a task force
comprised of local and federal agencies to combat illegal activity related to Hurricanes Irma and
Maria.

Acting U.S. Attorney Joycelyn Hewlett urges residents 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. In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the U.S. Department of Justice National Center for Disaster Fraud NCDF 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.

Members of the public who suspect 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 February 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 disaster@leo.gov. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is unable to receive incoming calls at its usual telephone numbers at this time. Please 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.

The U.S. Department of Justice said that it also keeping an eye on “price gouging on life sustaining commodities, fraudulent activity involving government vendors, home contractors, or insurance fraud” through the V.I. Department of Justice.

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.

Members of the public are reminded to apply a critical eye and do their due diligence before giving
contributions to anyone soliciting donations on behalf of disaster victims.

Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls, and
similar methods. Learn more about the NCDF at: www.justice.gov/disaster-fraud

Tips for the public on how to avoid being victimized of fraud are at: https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tipsavoiding-fraudulent-charitable-contribution-schemes

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The Author

John McCarthy

John McCarthy

John McCarthy has been reporting on the U.S. Virgin Islands since 1989. He is originally from Detroit, Michigan.

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