Thousands of fraud complaints coming in post-Harvey

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Workers take calls at the National Center for Disaster Fraud at LSU in Baton Rouge. (KTRK)

13 Investigates with Ted Oberg
Thousands of fraud complaints have been filed with the government, claiming scammers have filed for FEMA assistance using someone else's information.

It's not really a surprise that someone would try to take advantage of federal assistance after Harvey. What is a surprise to the feds is the volume of complaints.

In Houston, William McKee is just one of many homeowners who got called about a FEMA inspection he never needed or asked for.

He got water up to his front yard, but not much beyond that.

"No water in our house. No damage. No flooded cars, no nothing," McKee said.

He found a flyer on his door saying someone had stopped by for a FEMA inspection.

He called the number listed to investigate and sure enough, someone had filed a claim on his very dry, very not-flooded home. That claim would be worth a few hundred dollars in personal assistance money that should go to someone who really needs it.

"We certainly don't need help, but we'd like to make sure the people who do need it get it," McKee said.

McKee's story isn't the only one out there. Thousands of people have filed fraudulent claims in the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Maria and Irma, according to government statistics.

Those complaints are being handled by a specialized team at the National Center for Disaster Fraud on the campus of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.

The center, started after Hurricane Katrina, houses more than 30 federal agencies and is run by the Department of Justice.

"The Center in my view is a 911 for disaster fraud anywhere in the country," the center's director and federal prosecutor Corey Amundson said.

Amundson says he's seen all kinds of fraud schemes, including ones like McKee's.

"It's a typical fraud scheme," Amundson said. "It's just a different iteration of it. And it's outrageous."

This center is staffed 24/7 and has been in full gear since Harvey first made landfall.

Investigators and prosecutors are already working hundreds of cases they say hopefully turn into convictions.

There are lots of ways to report disaster fraud to the center. You can call the hotline at 866-720-5721 or fax information to 225-334-4707.

If it's easier, you can e-mail your complaint to disaster@leo.gov.

Do you have a story tip, idea or question for Ted Oberg Investigates? Let us know, at abc13.com/tedstips


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Ted Oberg InvestigatesfraudFEMAhurricane harveyhouston floodHouston
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