FEMA investigating fraud in Hurricane Irma aid

A Key West resident asks for help in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which struck the Keys Sept. 10.
A Key West resident asks for help in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which struck the Keys Sept. 10. Keynoter

The Federal Emergency Management Administration is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies to investigate possible fraud in applications for rental assistance or lodging reimbursement stemming from Hurricane Irma.

“FEMA recommends monitoring your credit report for any accounts or changes you do not recognize,” according to a form letter sent out to many households in Key West this past week. “If you discover someone is misusing your information, you will need to take additional steps, including filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission through their website:”

The letter says in bold print: “IMPORTANT: If you did not register for FEMA disaster assistance, call FEMA’s Helpline within 30-days of the date of this letter. If you did register for assistance, we also need you to call the FEMA Helpline to update your application information.

“I would call,” said John Mills, a spokesman for FEMA. “It’s important to read these letters carefully and follow instructions.”

Mills said he didn’t have an official number of how many of these fraud warning letters have gone out but said people getting them may still be eligible for disaster assistance from FEMA.

Nothing indicates FEMA’s information system has been compromised, Mills said.

“FEMA is working to ensure that survivors who are eligible receive the assistance they need based on accurate applications and information,” Mills said. “FEMA is notifying survivors by phone or mail that their applications are receiving additional scrutiny.”

This month, FEMA spokesman Nate Custer said in Monroe County, FEMA has handed out $56 million in housing and other assistance and the agency has registered more than 40,000 households — almost half of the county's population. More than 99 percent of the 21,000 home inspections have been completed.

More than $21 million in rental assistance has also been handed out, FEMA said.

The letter reads in part, “This application is currently under investigation by FEMA because it may be linked to fraud. As a result, if you have an online account, the ability to change Electronic Funds Transfer account information online has been disabled and you will need to contact us to update your application information.”

FEMA’s Helpline is 800-621-3362. Multilingual operators are available, for Spanish press 2 and all other languages press 3. If you are deaf, hard of hearing, or have a speech disability and use 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS), call 800-621-3362. TTY: 800-462-7585.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen

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