Whether you prefer the mantra, “There’s no place like home,” or “Home is where the heart is,” you’re certain to associate a particular comfort with your “home.” For many, the home is a place of memories. The thought of losing a home often resonates deeply with many individuals, even fraudsters – though not likely for the same reasons. A Cypress Creek Mirror article describes how one fraudulent couple used the idea of losing a home to their benefit.
A Texas couple pleaded guilty in 2012, to defrauding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over $23,000. Following the disaster of Hurricane Ike in September 2008, the couple took advantage of the disaster relief funds provided by FEMA to those whose homes were damaged. (The hurricane damaged almost EVERYONE’s home, so what’s one little $23,000 lie?) The case was started by the Office of Inspector General (OIG), U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD), who referred the matter to the OIG for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) based on a suspicion of disaster fraud. Their investigation found that the couple used false addresses and claimed damages from Hurricane Ike to obtain disaster relief funds. (The purpose of the program is to distribute funds for damages, not hand out funds because you’d like some money.)
The couples’ success was based on their claims that the false addresses were their “primary homes,” though investigations revealed the couple did not own, rent or ever stay in any of the addresses they used on their applications for assistance. (There’s no place like everyone else’s homes when you’re using it for fraud.) Court records indicate that both of the individuals submitted separate claims to FEMA, using homes found in the same neighborhood as their actual home. Oh yeah…they used multiple Social Security numbers in the applications, as well. (How much you wanna bet they were stolen?) Each was proven guilty, and the woman was sentenced to 27 months in prison, while the man was sentenced to 24 months in prison. Both must repay $23,014 in restitution, as well as serve two years of supervised release.
I doubt the couple will be saying, “There’s no place like home,” when referring to their new jail cells. Perhaps they’ve learned their lesson about using other people’s property for their own benefit. (Okay, probably not.) So, here’s the question of the day: how many fraudsters are out there trying to take advantage of Superstorm Sandy aid?