As the old adage goes, when you want to find fraud, follow the money. In the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is preparing for another huge post-disaster recovery operation. As many as half a million Texans and untold millions of Floridians will likely be eligible for federal financial support. FEMA’s central challenge will be to balance the risk of fraud with the urgent need to provide relief.
Post-disaster environments are notoriously prone to fraud. Most believe it is better to risk losing a few dollars to a fraudster than to make a true victim spend another night in a shelter. As the Government Accountability Office has reported, federal agency officials often decide to forego home inspections used to verify damage after a natural disaster because they may be prohibitively time-consuming or difficult to conduct in inaccessible areas.
The last two major hurricanes to hit the United States—Katrina and Sandy—offered FEMA a wealth of lessons in how to manage the myriad fraud risks. According to GAO, during the first six months following Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, FEMA provided between $600 million and $1.4 billion in improper and potentially fraudulent financial assistance.
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