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 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 complaints to the appropriate agency for investigation.
“In the aftermath of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Florence the affected communities and citizens of Eastern North Carolina should be on guard against disaster fraud schemes,” said Robert J. Higdon, Jr., United States Attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. “As FEMA and other federal, state, and local relief agencies work tirelessly to support those who have suffered losses as the result of this natural disaster, we can be certain that criminals will target those impacted and attempt to profit from the suffering of others. The Department of Justice is committed to detecting and stopping this type of fraud. Through the National Center for Disaster Fraud, and in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, we are working to aggressively prosecute the offenders.”
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:
- FEMA fraud;
- Identity theft;
- Contractor fraud;
- Charity fraud; and,
- Impersonation of government officials.
The NCDF reminds the public to be aware of and report any instances of alleged fraudulent activity related to relief operations and funding for victims. 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. The public is also reminded to be extremely cautious before providing personal identifying or financial information to anyone, especially those who may contact you after a natural disaster.
Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricane Florence, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through email or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions. Tips should be reported to the NCDF at (866) 720-5721. The line is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Additionally, e-mails can be sent to email@example.com, and information can be faxed to (225) 334-4707.
Violations of North Carolina state disaster fraud laws are handled by the North Carolina Department of Justice’s (NCDOJ) Consumer Protection Division. The NCDOJ Consumer Protection Division may be contacted at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM (1-877-566-7226) or by visiting www.ncdoj.gov/complaint.
Tips on how to avoid being victimized by fraud are available at https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/tips-avoiding-fraudulent-charitable-contribution-schemes