After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the Gulf Coast region in 2005, the immediate devastation was followed by years of complaints of fraud. In the four years after Katrina, the fraud task force—consisting of more than two dozen local, state, and federal agencies, including the FBI—received more than 36,000 complaints. By 2009, more than 1,300 individuals had been indicted for Katrina-related crimes.
If charitable giving after past disasters is any indication, millions of aid dollars will flow in the coming weeks and months to areas affected by Harvey’s damaging storms and flooding. Federal agencies want to make sure those contributions end up where donors intend, and not in the hands of criminals.
“Unfortunately, criminals can exploit disasters, such as Hurricane Harvey, for their own gain by sending fraudulent communications through e-mail or social media and by creating phony websites designed to solicit contributions,” the National Centre for Disaster Fraud warned.
Perrye Turner, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s Houston Division, echoed these warnings: “As we all work to rebuild the Houston/Gulf Coast region and look for ways to help, it’s important to perform due diligence before giving contributions to anyone soliciting donations or individuals offering to provide assistance to those affected by Harvey, whether the solicitations are in person, via e-mail, or by telephone,” Turner said in a statement. “The FBI is dedicated to investigating and preventing this type of fraud, especially when it involves preying on individuals during times of great need.”
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