U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales announced the Hurricane Katrina Fraud Task Force as he toured the destruction in Louisiana and Mississippi.
"We cannot allow the kindness of Americans to be exploited in this time of disaster and crisis," said Gonzales in a statement. "This Task Force will help ensure that those offering a helping hand do not themselves become the victims of fraud, and that the money and support they so graciously and generously offer goes to the intended recipients, the many victims of Hurricane Katrina."
The task force, which will be chaired by Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher of the department's Criminal Division, will include representatives from the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Postal Inspector's Office, and the Executive Office of the United States Attorneys.
Among the types of fraud the task force will target for investigation and prosecution, said Gonzales, are charity fraud, insurance fraud, government benefits fraud, and identity theft.
The move came on the same day that the senior cyber-security official at the FBI said that Katrina charity scam sites are popping up faster than the agency can run them down.
FBI assistant director Louis Reigel said by mid-day Thursday there were roughly 2,300 Katrina-related sites, double the number since Tuesday. That figure already dwarfs what the FBI saw in the aftermath of the Southeast Asian tsunami earlier this year, Reigel said.
New Katrina sites appear “faster than we can pound them down,” Reigel told the Associated Press. The bureau, he said, has been able to look at only 800 of the sites, or approximately a third of those online.
Limited actions against Katrina scammers have been taken by state officials in Florida and Missouri, but federal law enforcement has yet to file any charges.
In Florida, Attorney General Charlie Crist has filed a civil lawsuit against a state resident, Robert E. Moneyhan, 51, for allegedly creating several Katrina-related sites, none of which was a legitimate charitable operation. Wednesday, similar charges were brought by Missouri's Attorney General, Jay Nixon, against a St. Louis man, Frank Weltner.