Taking Advantage of Tornadoes


Imagine being the victim of a natural disaster: your home could’ve been wrecked, your property may have been damaged and you may not even know where your loved ones are and if they’re alright. Now imagine someone pretending to suffer like you have in order to collect government funds. To some, this may be merely disappointing. To those who have truly suffered due to hurricanes, floods and other natural disasters, it’s horrifying. A South Florida couple was accused of pretending to be victims of a variety of natural disasters since 2008 in order to collect relief funds, the Sun Sentinel reports.

The fraudsters were convicted of over 70 counts combined, including mail fraud, wire fraud, access device fraud and aggravated identity theft. (Holy hurricane.) The two were charged with stealing $340,000 from the fund set up by BP Oil to help alleviate the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. (Clearly they’ve never seen the commercials where they clean the oil off of the little ducklings. No one can steal from ducklings.)

According to the article, the two filed false claims using the stolen identities of 34 individuals; set up addresses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and the Florida Panhandle and collected the payments under a fake name through a credit union in Texas. They then withdrew the money through wire transfers and ATMs in South Florida. (I almost feel like they should qualify for frequent flyer miles or something.) The two face between two and 30 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for August 16.

In the end, the two filed claims for over $1 million and managed to collect about $380,000 (when you frame it that way, $380,000 is disappointingly small). But even with their meager $380,000, they rented luxury homes and bought fancy cars and boats. We can only hope that the next hurricane that passes over manages to take those cars and boats for a ride.

Source: Today’s ”Fraud of the Day” is based on the article entitled, ”South Florida Couple Guilty in Disaster Fraud,” written by Wayne K. Roustan and published by the Sun Sentinel on June 9, 2012.

A South Florida couple was found guilty on Friday of orchestrating one of the “largest financial loss cases to date arising from claims filed for the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill” in the Gulf of Mexico, according to U.S. Attorney Wifredo A. Ferrer.

Joseph Harvey and Anja Karin Kannell were accused of posing as the victims of a variety of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods and other disasters around the country since 2008 to collect relief funds, prosecutors said.

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Larry Benson
Larry Benson is currently the Director of Strategic Alliances for Revenue Discovery and Recovery at LexisNexis Risk Solutions. In this role, Benson is responsible for developing partnerships for the tax and revenue and child support enforcement verticals. He focuses on embedded companies that have a need for third-party analytics to enhance their current offerings.