Sadly, history repeats itself. Disasters can bring about the best, and sometimes the worst, in human behavior. So can disaster cleanups. From price gouging to fraud, there will always be opportunists on the horizon following any storm.
The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC’s) recently issued FTC Advice for Hurricane Victims and People Who Want to Help gives information for people affected by Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, and for those who want to contribute to relief efforts. Protecting yourself from unscrupulous operators—both those to whom you give cash donations or those hired to help clean up your home or business—needs to be foremost on people’s minds.
Getting information into the public’s hands, such as the tips provided by the FTC, opens eyes in terms of how individuals can protect themselves and their money. The importance of doing due diligence on who you give to or hire to help rebuild your home or business cannot be overstated. Equally important is the need for due diligence and oversight of those companies and agencies involved in the relief efforts.
As we have seen, with each natural disaster, from 2005’s Katrina to 2017’s Harvey and Irma, the relief and recovery services—with costs anticipated to escalate into tens of billions of dollars—need to have companion programs geared toward stopping significant overcharges, wasteful spending, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement. And hand in hand with those programs comes the need for systematic reporting mechanisms to keep track of fraudsters, and more important, to let others know of their existence.
But what about public projects like removing debris, repairing levees, and rebuilding roads, bridges, and major government buildings? The government needs to step in—and step up—with a far more formal process when public funds are involved. Integrity monitoring services, such as those utilized in the rebuilding of the World Trade Center or after Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey that have proven their ability to help save billions, need to be utilized.
The use of an integrity monitor minimizes fraud, waste, and abuse; maximizes funding allocations without duplication and the threat of claw backs; and assures compliance with the complex matrix of relevant laws, regulations, and policies at the federal, state, and local levels.
For government agencies, the efforts promote efficient and appropriate delivery of taxpayer funds. Oversight by a reliable, independent entity producing its own reports fosters transparency and accountability, enhancing public confidence, and providing reputation protection. Such monitors have also proven useful for private owners, as their efforts protect an organization’s work, its capital, and its most important asset, its reputation.
An integrity monitor anticipates problems rather than merely reacting to them. When problems do arise, they can be detected in real time by utilizing an intelligence-based approach and multidisciplinary team of forensic accountants, engineers, investigators, and policy experts, which enables clients to make recoveries quickly, rather than years later through lawsuits.
In short, integrity monitors provide risk management and fraud prevention services tailored toward the greatest risk and sources of funding, whether they be various forms of government subsidies and loans, philanthropic dollars, and/or insurance reimbursements.
The cleanup after a natural disaster is never easy. Every step taken to thwart fraud and abuse is a step forward.