When you find yourself in a situation where you're aware of fraud against the government, it's hard to know what to do next. Should you file a lawsuit? If you pursue legal action, will it cost you your job? Will it hurt your reputation? Is it wise?
Because navigating these issues can be so tricky, here's a look at what to keep in mind. Before you file a lawsuit and become a whistleblower, here are some things you need to know:
- What Constitutes Government Fraud: There are many ways companies can defraud the government, whether that's on a state, municipal or federal level. A company may be overcharging a government agency, falsifying information or promising one service/product while providing another. It could be as simple as charging for a survey of 1,000 people while actually testing 100. It could be as serious as contracting for a certain quality of weaponry while providing something lesser. The key is that the business is getting the government entity to pay more money, or money that it shouldn't be paying, for a product or service.
- Whether the Fraud Is Worth Pursuing Action: In the False Claims Act area, there are lawsuits for a wide range of dollar amounts, from tens of thousands to billions of dollars. Nonetheless, what you need to keep in mind is that the greater the amount of fraud, the more seriously the government will take it. So if the fraud happening at your company is worth a few thousand dollars, will the government want to spend the time and money to pursue it? Possibly not. In the tax area, however, this is even more significant, as the IRS will only pursue investigation of cases that deal with a loss of one million dollars or more.
- Why an Attorney Is So Important: The fact is, whistleblower and government fraud lawsuits are a specialized area of the law that require a level of expertise and experience. Without an attorney, you will be at a greater risk of not knowing your rights and potentially being harmed. The government will try to keep your name confidential as long as possible, but eventually it will come out - and an attorney is the one who can help you avoid unfair blackballing as a result.
- What You Can Expect to Happen: When you blow the whistle, sooner or later your name will be linked to it whether or not the case is successful. The implications of this are personally and professionally significant. Therefore, choosing to pursue action is a weighty decision and one that should not be entered into lightly.
If you believe your company is defrauding the government in some way, you may wish to speak to an experienced attorney about your options. Not only will your attorney be able to help you determine whether, and than how, to move forward, but he or she will also help you protect your best interests in the process.
Article by Brian McCormick, Jr.