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FBI to target Sandy fraud

Most people think about the devastation and death that Hurricane Sandy caused. However, the FBI has a different take. It thinks about white collar crime, especially fraud. Federal investigators are now looking very carefully at the billions of dollars pouring into New Jersey for rebuilding projects.

And they are not just looking at municipal projects and public contracts. They are also zeroing in on individual homeowners, searching out cases of fraud that may represent only a few thousand dollars. This represents a change in the FBI's approach to fraud. A typical fraud case usually involves at least $100,000, not the relatively small amounts that homeowner fraud would represent.

Apparently officials want to make examples of individuals who wrongfully get in line for the federal dollars pouring into the state. According to the FBI's Douglas Veivia, a New Jersey supervisory agent, "We want to bring some of [the cases] early in the process to serve as a deterrent."

There is a lot of money - as of February, $1.25 billion is coming to New Jersey. And Governor Christie is expected to propose even more spending. According to the DBI, all this money creates opportunities for criminals.

The federal government is training investigators in New York and New Jersey on how to spot disaster fraud. And it's not just the FBI that is planning to pursue Sandy-related fraud. The New Jersey Attorney General's Office has sued a Sandy-related charity in Bergen County and has prohibited the group from seeking additional donations. Monmouth County has started a task force targeting contractors who operate scams involving repairs to storm-0damaged properties.

A typical kind of disaster fraud is benefit fraud. An example would be someone claiming that damage to a home or car was caused by the storm when in reality it existed prior to the storm's arrival. But is it worth it to target this type of small fraud that involves relatively little money? Only time will tell.

Source: NorthJersey.com, "FBI is watching Sandy aid in N.J. for fraud," by Shawn Boburg, Mar. 6, 2013. 

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