It’s only been 10 days since Hurricane Harvey slammed Texas, but the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is already investigating 80 fraud complaints.
David Green, special agent in charge of the Office of Inspector General at DHS, said his office will go after “greed-driven criminal schemes” stemming from the after-effects of Harvey.
Green said fraudsters include people seeking aid from federal agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency when they did not sustain damages from the storm, and contractors who scam homeowners by seeking money up front to repair flood-damaged houses and then never doing the work.
“We will not tolerate fraud schemes,” Green said.
Green was one of seven federal and Harris County officials who spoke at a press conference in Houston Tuesday, where they discussed their unified effort to battle the fraud that inevitably occurs after a natural disaster.
Abe Martinez, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Texas, said now is the time, as Houston and Southeast Texas recover from the storm, when fraudsters seek opportunities to take advantage of people. The storm hit Texas as a Category 4 hurricane that later dropped 51 inches of rain on Houston, causing massive flooding.
He noted that his office prosecuted 105 individuals facing fraud charges stemming from Hurricane Katrina.
In addition to the fraud scams Green mentioned, Martinez said other Harvey-related fraud can include fake charities and people impersonating FEMA investigators.
Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said that over the last nine days, her office has charged 100 people with looting.
When asked if undocumented immigrants have reason to be wary about complaining about fraud, Ogg noted that it’s a crime to defraud anyone, regardless of their citizenship status. Martinez said people who are undocumented immigrants should not be fearful about bringing their complaints to a federal agency.