Officials urge caution to avoid scam, fraud

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – As flood waters rise in western Mississippi and tornado cleanup continues in the east, government officials renewed their warnings this week about disaster-related fraud and scams.
John Marshall Alexander, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Mississippi, urged residents and businesses to protect themselves and also report suspicious activities.
State Attorney General Jim Hood had issued a similar warning against scams during a visit to Smithville last week.
“It is of vital importance that businesses and individuals in north Mississippi who have been affected by the recent tornadoes and rising floodwaters receive the assistance and funding necessary to recover,” Alexander said in a press release. “The U.S. attorney’s office is committed to pursuing disaster-related fraud as a top priority and prosecuting those individuals who may seek to fraudulently divert funds from those in need.”
At least two people have been arrested in Monroe County on fraud-related charges since the April 27 tornado, said Monroe County Chief Deputy Sheriff Brent Swan. The second arrest came Tuesday after Arnita L. James, 43, of Nettleton, allegedly used false information to receive aid for storm victims, even though her home was not affected.
“We’ve had several different complaints of people trying to get benefits,” Swan said. “Most of them, it’s fraudulent use of IDs, claiming to be residents of Smithville or Wren to receive donations for storm victims.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has started taking applications and distributing funds for tornado-related disaster assistance. The number of applications and distributions is expected to grow as tornado recovery efforts continue and as flooding hits the western part of the state.
To ensure that benefits reach the real victims, and not scam artists, the U.S. attorney’s office has partnered with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General, and other federal, state and local agencies.
“Credible allegations or evidence of such crimes will be investigated and, where appropriate, prosecuted to the full extent of federal law,” said Charles K. Edwards, Department of Homeland Security acting inspector general.
The public also is urged to ask questions and do research before donating money or items to storm and flood victims. Solicitations can originate from e-mails, websites, door-to-door collections, mailings and telephone calls.

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@journalinc.com.