Thinking about becoming a whistleblower? Understanding the correct process can help increase your protection and greatly increase your chances of a successful case.
Do you have to be U.S. citizen?
No. Anyone with credible information about fraud on the government, breaches of federal securities laws, or other violations may be eligible to be a whistleblower and to receive an award if the information provided leads to a sufficient government recovery. International whistleblowers are particularly common in matters involving customs fraud and foreign bribery.
Do you have to be an employee of the company?
No. While whistleblowers often are current or former employees of the businesses that engaged in wrongdoing, employment status and company affiliation are not prerequisites to whistleblowing.
Customers, competitors, consultants, patients, and other observers also can bring successful whistleblower cases if they have sufficient knowledge of the wrongdoing.
The importance of reporting fraud quickly
The statute of limitations, which determines how long a whistleblower can wait before filing a claim, may vary based on the details of your case. Regardless, whistleblower laws generally provide awards only to the first person who reports a particular fraud to the government.
For these reasons, time is an important factor in every whistleblower case and fraudulent behavior should be reported in a timely manner.
Protect Yourself: Contact an Attorney
If you are considering becoming a whistleblower, you will want to contact an attorney for numerous reasons, such as:
- In order to pursue a case under the False Claims Act, the law requires that you have an attorney.
- No matter what program you file under, having the right attorney prepare your case and advocate on your behalf greatly increases your chances of a successful outcome and substantial reward.
- If your claim is filed under the SEC whistleblower program, having an attorney may help to preserve your anonymity.
- An attorney can help to protect you from illegal retaliation if you blow the whistle.
Creating The Foundation of Your Case
Together with your attorney, you will create the foundation of your case by gathering the necessary information. In this regard, an attorney can offer guidance on lawfully obtaining and preserving evidence to increase the chances of success.
To be present a strong case, a whistleblower must provide the government, through counsel, specific evidence of: 1) the nature of the fraud, 2) when the fraud occurred, and 3) who perpetrated the fraud and who knew about it. If possible, it is also helpful to provide an approximation of the amount of monetary loss caused by the fraud.
In the course of gathering information, a whistleblower must be sure only to gather documents within the purview of his/her daily job functions. This means that the whistleblower cannot enter someone’s office or computer to obtain additional information.
As you gather the relevant information, your attorney will review the information and evaluate the potential of your claim. If you proceed toward filing a claim, your attorney will draft the necessary documents in a manner that explains clearly how the fraud occurred and why it should be important to the government.
Government Investigation and Prosecution
Once your claim has been filed and relevant evidence has been provided, the government will begin an investigation of its own. This could involve interviews of you and other witnesses, consultation with the relevant government agency, and the collection of documents from witnesses and the defendant.
As the government’s investigation progresses, you may be needed to provide additional information or insight. The government’s investigation likely will take at least a year, and could take several years. During this entire process, the government keeps your identity confidential, and you, too, must keep your case confidential. You can discuss your case only with your attorneys and the government.
Once the government completes its investigation, it will decide whether to pursue the case. If the government chooses to pursue the case, it likely will attempt to negotiate a settlement, but may have to litigate the case in court. If the government declines to pursue a case filed under the False Claims Act, the whistleblower and his or her attorney must decide whether to try to pursue the case on their own.