BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - So far, 1,200 people have already filed fraud claims related to the August flooding that affected residents in 22 parishes across Louisiana. Officials expect that number will increase to 6,000 after more federal funding makes its way into Louisiana.
"Louisiana residents should be wary during the kind of disaster that individuals will prey on them," said Jeffrey Sallet with the FBI.
The National Center for Disaster Fraud is based in Baton Rouge, with people answering the phones 24/7. In 2008, the center started taking calls from all over the country for natural and man-made disasters that have been declared by the president. That now includes the historic August flooding in Louisiana.
"This is not something that we think is going to happen. We know it is going to happen. It has happened. The two top fraud disasters in U.S. history for fraudulent claims are Hurricane Katrina and Deepwater Horizon spill, so Louisiana already has a prolific history with fraudulent claims," said Sallet.
That's why numerous local, state, and federal agencies have come together to raise awareness.
"We cannot fail them. We have got to follow up on those. We have got to find those individuals. Unfortunately, many times they're not even in this country. We've got to follow them. That's why our partners at the FBI, Secret Service, and Homeland Security are so critical," said State Police Col. Mike Edmonson.
Officials are hoping to raise awareness through the use of billboards and fliers, which have been printed in Spanish as well as English.
"Those tax dollars are meant to provide relief for people who are in need. When people go out there and fraudulently access the system, they take away money and resources from people and communities that absolutely need them and this center is to make sure those people are brought to justice," said Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Officials say you can expect scams through the phone, internet, and through face-to-face interaction with people posing as federal officials asking for your personal information. Some things to keep in mind: only put down a 25% deposit, never pay with cash, and take pictures with of contractor, including their vehicle and license plate.
Most importantly, if you think you've been a victim of fraud, call the hotline at 1-866-720-5721 as soon as possible.