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The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) aids individuals or families who have incurred losses due to disasters. Homeowners, renters and business owners within a federally-declared disaster area can apply for assistance if damage has occurred to homes, vehicles, personal property or businesses. (Applicants must provide a legitimate address within the disaster zone to qualify for help. Seems like a no-brainer, right?) A woman from Dallas, Texas was apparently not using her brain when she applied for free federal money after a 2013 tornado struck the community of Moore, Oklahoma. She committed disaster fraud by claiming she had an apartment in the disaster zone, but there was one major problem – the address she provided did not exist.

The tornado that occurred in Moore, Oklahoma on the evening of May 20, 2013 proved to be the deadliest twister for the year in the state, as well as in the U.S. (Not exactly the kind of record you want to break.) The tornado, which had the maximum rating of EF-5, caused billions of dollars in damage, killed 24 people, and injured many others. According to today’s fraudster, her imaginary apartment was demolished. (So, she applied for disaster aid from FEMA.)

 FEMA provides grants to help qualified applicants pay for temporary housing, emergency home repairs, personal property losses, medical, dental and funeral expenses and other disaster-related expenses. (Perhaps the fraudster wanted to use the federal funds to go on a luxury vacation or a shopping spree with her take. Who knows?)

 The Dallas woman applied for disaster assistance shortly after the devastating tornado using the name, birthdate and Social Security number of another person. (Interestingly, the stolen identity she used did not live in Moore either. Again, another dumb move.) Subsequently, she received $14,974 in undeserved FEMA assistance.

The 58-year-old Dallas woman pleaded guilty to disaster fraud about four years after the false claim was submitted. She was sentenced to 14 months in federal prison for lying about her fictitious damaged apartment and must pay full restitution to FEMA.

In 2017, the U.S. and its territories experienced a historic year for weather and climate-related disaster events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) National Centers for Environmental Information, which keeps track of disaster statistics, reports that the costs of one drought, two floods, one freeze, eight severe storms, three tropical cyclones and one wildfire amounts to $306.2 billion – a new record. FEMA currently shows that there are more than 5.1 million applications currently open for disaster assistance from the agency. Let’s hope that they are legit and the individuals requesting help have not twisted their facts in order to steal benefits they don’t deserve.

Today’s “Fraud of the Day” is based on an article entitled, “Dallas woman sentenced for disaster fraud related to Moore tornado,” posted on on February 1, 2018.

A Dallas woman was sentenced Wednesday to 14 months in federal prison for disaster fraud related to tornado damage in Moore.

Dorothy D. Barney, 58, applied for disaster aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency after a tornado damaged Moore on May 20, 2013, according to Oklahoma City federal prosecutors.

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Larry Benson
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.