Making matters worse for the millions of Americans who lost their homes to hurricanes, wildfires, and other natural disasters in 2017 are hundreds of thousands of fraudsters trying to capitalize on their losses. The Economist reported earlier this month that more than 200,000 applications for disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency are suspected to be fraudulent.
As I reported in the current issue of NFPA Journal, about 4.7 million Americans registered for federal disaster aid in 2017, a tenfold jump from 2016–a result of the three massive hurricanes that pummeled parts of Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico in late summer and the deadly Western wildfires that followed in the fall. My colleague Jesse Roman and I covered the hurricanes extensively in a package called "Storm Season," which appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of NFPA Journal.
According to The Economist, it's unclear if there's a link between the fraudulent disaster aid claims and the 2017 Equifax data breach, which compromised the personal information of more than 143 million Americans, although experts say it could have made disaster victims' information more accessible. An FBI task force has been formed to investigate fraudulent claims related to the northern California wildfires. Visit FEMA's disaster fraud page for information on how to prevent fraud and what to do if you think you're a victim of fraud.