Our country has been overwhelmed with the damage caused by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Over $100 million in damages have already been reported in Central Florida alone, and that number will only increase as more damage assessments take place.
While a majority of hurricane damage claims are valid, some people will undoubtedly attempt to capitalize on the natural disaster by filing a fraudulent claim.
After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, $108 billion in damages was reported, with 1,800 fatalities. However, there were also 1,300 cases prosecuted for fraud where “people impersonated law enforcement, took personal information from victims to file fraudulent claims to the government and solicited donations for fake charities.”
Because of this, while Florida and other parts of the country are hoping to recover from hurricane damage, the United States Department of Justice have put task forces in in place to protect victims and investigate complaints. Let’s look at the types of fraud they’re watching out for in the wake of these natural disasters.
Most Common Types of Natural Catastrophe and Disaster Fraud
Disaster fraud, defined as “a deliberate act to defraud individuals or the government after a catastrophe,” falls into five main categories:
Charitable solicitations fraud. This type of fraud involves people or websites pretending to be actual, legitimate charities and taking donations for disaster victims. With the reach of the Internet and people wanting to help those in need, deception is easy and donors’ personal information and credit card information can be taken advantage of.
Contractor and vendor fraud. This type of fraud happens when contractors or vendors – or people who pose as legitimate contractors or vendors – are paid to make damage repairs but don’t have any intention of actually completing the job they were hired for.
After Hurricane Charley back in 2004, an ex-pastor from Port Charlotte took deposits from 43 homeowners to repair damages and then fled the state, finally being arrested in Montana.
Price gouging. Florida statute 501.160 says that “during a state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell, lease, offer to sell, or offer for lease essential commodities, dwelling units, or self-storage facilities for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity during the 30 days before the declaration of the state of emergency.”
In 2005, after Hurricane Wilma, a Florida man reaped the benefits of price gouging before he was caught selling generators on a street corner for almost double what he paid for them at Costco.
Property insurance fraud. Fraudulent property insurance claims can involve a number of offenses, including but not limited to:
- Claiming more damages than you actually suffered;
- Faking repairs and costs;
- Claiming lost services;
- Deliberately causing property damage;
- Selling flooded vehicles to unsuspecting buyers; and
- Filing a claim for a loss unrelated to the disaster.
Forgery. As with property insurance fraud, there are a number of incidents of forgery that can arise after a disaster, including but not limited to:
- Cashing reimbursement checks stolen from another person’s mail;
- Submitting fake receipts and building permits for repair claims; and
- Forging checks for insurance or emergency assistance.
After natural disasters and catastrophes, the government keeps a watchful eye out for fraudulent activity. If you’ve fallen victim to this crack down and are facing fraud charges related to the recent hurricanes, reach out to an experienced Florida fraud defense attorney today to fight for your rights and beat your charges.
About the Author:
Attorney David W. Olson is the founder of the Law Offices of David W. Olson in West Palm Beach. He has been practicing criminal law and successfully representing clients throughout the State of Florida for over 30 years. Throughout his legal career, Mr. Olson has been honored numerous times for both his dedication and excellence in criminal law. He proudly holds the Martindale-Hubbell AV Rating, as well as being recognized as a Top 100 Trial Lawyer (2013), in the Nation’s Top One Percent of attorneys (2015), and as a 10 Best Member of the American Institute of Criminal Law Attorneys (2015). He has even received commendations from members of congress and other public officials for the fantastic work that he’s done. Mr. Olson graduated from the University of Florida’s Fredric G. Levin College of Law in 1981 and has been a member of the Florida Bar since 1983.