The United States Government may seem all-knowing and powerful, but in truth, it is often susceptible to fraud and deception. Everyday, especially during tax season, individuals or companies attempt to defraud the government in order to receive or avoid paying money. To combat this fact, the U.S. decided to pass the False Claims Act which incentivizes the disclosure of fraudulent activities by rewarding citizens who come forward with information a percentage of any recovered funds. Since its enactment in 1987, the government has recovered over $30 billion of fraudulent funds. Nearly $3.5 billion of that amount has been paid out to the citizens who helped uncover the fraud.
What is a whistleblower?
A person who reports on the wrongdoings of his or her company is often referred to as a whistleblower. A whistleblower performs a highly valued service for the government. For their service, they are rewarded 15-30% of any funds that their information and assistance help recover. In order to qualify as a whistleblower under the law, you must have independent knowledge of the fraud and be an original source of the information you provide. The information cannot come from other sources or public documents.
What exactly is fraud?
Fraud is defined broadly in the statutes. Nearly any false representation made to the government can be considered fraud especially when the misrepresentation is made to gain a monetary advantage. Healthcare fraud is one of the most common types. This usually comes in the form of false claims made by doctors and clinics to Medicare and Medicaid for services that were unnecessary or never even occurred. Tax fraud is also prevalent; companies or individuals may falsely represent income or expenses in order to pay fewer taxes. The statute provides other examples of fraud like knowingly buying government property from an unauthorized officer or accepting money or property from the government to which you are not entitled. Finally, it is important to note that wrongdoers do not always have to possess the intent to defraud. A company or individual is still liable if they ignore or disregard actions that result in the government being defrauded.
How does the reporting process work?
If you suspect that a fraud is being perpetrated, your best step is to consult an attorney who can evaluate the situation and advise you on how to proceed. You and the attorney can then file a whistleblower suit which is also known as a qui tam action. The action is reported to the Department of Justice who will conduct their own investigation and decide whether to join in the prosecution of the lawsuit. Even if the government decides not to join the suit, you can still pursue the case alone and receive the reward which you are due.
Can I get fired?
A common fear among whistleblowers is that their employer will retaliate and fire them for their actions. Fortunately, the law provides protection to avoid this situation. A whistleblower who is the victim of employer retaliation may file an action get his or her job back and get double pay plus interest for time lost on the job.
What should I do now?
If you have information regarding fraud or other unlawful activities being perpetrated, please contact an attorney immediately. For whistleblower actions, the majority of attorneys will work on a contingency fee meaning that no money is required upfront, so do not let financial reasons prevent you from coming forward. An attorney can ensure that you receive all of the rewards and protections that you deserve, so it is best to contact one before reporting.
J. Andrew Robertson is an Associate at The Bassett Firm. Mr. Robertson's practice focuses on Commercial Litigation, Commercial Transactions, Insurance Defense, Transportation Litigation and Personal Injury. He received his B.A. from Rhodes College in 2000 and his J.D. from Thomas Jefferson School of Law in 2006. Mr. Robertson was voted a Georgia Super Lawyer in 2010 and a Texas Super Lawyer in 2011 and 2012.