A Perfect Storm

19642407 - car under water vehicle flooded by river flood in des plains, il, usa flooded city streets after few days of intense rain nature disasters photo collection

In August 2016, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana and nearby parishes received more than 20 inches of rain over three days. The National Weather Service estimates that 13 people died and 50,000 to 75,000 structures were flooded because of the extreme weather. Today’s fraudster, an Independence, Louisiana woman, took advantage of the FEMA-declared disaster zone and committed disaster fraud by collecting $150,000 in relief funds she did not deserve. (To add insult to injury, she carried out her scam against the government while living in a federal halfway house.)

The 38-year-old Louisiana woman was living in a halfway house because she had been previously convicted of mail fraud, theft of government funds and identity theft. She pleaded guilty in 2013 to collecting thousands of dollars in federal financial aid refunds, and had served 33 months in prison as a result. (She possessed the right skills for a fraud scheme and was just waiting for the perfect storm.)

 When the storm hit south Louisiana, she decided to jump into the fraud scheme with both feet and no life preserver. She was eager to reap the free benefits that were awarded to people who became unemployed because of the historic flood. (FEMA disaster relief was available for unemployed people in 20 south Louisiana parishes following the devastating storm.)

The Tangipahoa Parish woman stole the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of approximately 62 people, then used the personally identifiable information to submit around 55 fraudulent claims for disaster unemployment assistance. Fortunately, employees of the Louisiana Workforce Commission (LWC) uncovered her scheme about a month after the disaster. (Way to bail out the fraud in a hurry!)

A LWC employee reviewing the Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) claims noticed that one person had filed multiple claims for assistance. Another employee found that several Social Security numbers that belonged to deceased individuals had been used. (Sounds like the fraudster was up a creek without a paddle and a big hole in the bottom of her boat.)

Following a three-day trial, a jury convicted the Louisiana woman of disaster fraud and aggravated identity theft for stealing identities and using them to collect more than $150,000 in disaster relief funds she didn’t deserve. (Her detailed logs and notebooks of the stolen identities she used in the scheme sunk her boat.) She could face a long prison term plus fines when sentenced. (I’m guessing she’ll go down with the ship.)

 Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on a Department of Justice press release, “Federal Jury Convicts Louisiana Woman in Connection with Disaster Fraud and Identity Theft Scheme,” released on March 22, 2018.

U.S. Attorney Brandon J. Fremin, who also serves as the Executive Director of the National Center for Disaster Fraud, announced today that a jury has convicted RENATA FOREMAN, age 38, of Independence, Louisiana, on multiple wire fraud and aggravated identity theft counts following a three-day trial before U.S. District Judge Shelly D. Dick.  The charges relate to FOREMAN’s scheme to fraudulently obtain over $150,000 in federal disaster assistance funds from FEMA following the historic August 2016 flooding in Louisiana.

Following the 2016 flooding, which affected 20 parishes in south Louisiana, FEMA funds were available to people who became unemployed because of the flood.  The funds were administered by the Louisiana Workforce Commission in the form of Disaster Unemployment Assistance (“DUA”).  In total, FOREMAN submitted approximately 55 fraudulent applications using stolen identities.

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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.