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Victim Studies Gets $200,000 Grant
The Huntsville Item
Sam Houston State University's National Institute for Victim Studies received a $199,958 grant from the United States Department of Justice on Monday to study the financial exploitation of the elderly in the wake of natural disasters.
The 18-month study -- slated to begin in September -- will attempt to determine if fraudulent activities occur during cleanup and restoration projects, said James Marquart, director of the National Institute for Victim Studies.
"We need to know how much of a problem it is," Marquart said. "If it is, we need to put it in a civil defense plan."
The study will use the extensive damage and flooding caused by Tropical Storm Allison in Texas, as well as an assessment of the aftermath of tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas.
Through the use of polls and interviews with church leaders and other relief workers, the institute hopes to gain insight into a previously little-studied issue, Marquart said.
"It's another facet of victimization that we don't know a whole lot about," he said.
Although no one knows how widespread financial exploitation of the elderly is, media reports after natural disasters indicate fraud is a problem, Marquart said.
Rep. Jim Turner, D-Crockett, said the study is an important step toward protecting senior citizens from potential fraud.
"It is an unfortunate reality that America's seniors are often targeted by criminals following natural disasters," Turner said in a statement. "I am pleased that this federal funding will allow the Institute for Victim Studies to examine how we can stop this terrible and heartbreaking trend."
The results of the study will help raise awareness with police, Better Business Bureaus, media and the general public about the risk of fraud following natural disasters, Marquart said.
Ultimately, the data could be used to help cities and other governmental bodies implement information and procedures to deal with fraudulent activity in civil defense plans, he added.
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