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3 things you should know about qui tam actions

A qui tam action is a type of civil lawsuit brought by a private individual, alleging that an individual or business has been defrauding the government. It's made possible through the The False Claims Act, and it encourages private citizens with information about fraudulent activity to act as whistleblowers through considerable financial incentives.

If you are considering stepping forward with information about fraud against a federal program or agency, there are some important things you should consider.

-- What should you do first?

Anyone considering blowing the whistle against their employer or another business should find an attorney who handles whistleblower actions. Your attorney can help you proceed in the action and provide you with necessary advice each step of the way in order to protect yourself against retaliation.

For several reasons, it's important discuss your decision to file only with your attorney:

-- You decrease your chances of experiencing retaliation

-- You improve your chances of receiving the award, because only the first person to file is eligible for the financial reward

-- Once the action is filed, it is placed under a judicial seal for a minimum of 60 days in order to allow the Department of Justice to investigate, and you are legally prohibited from even mentioning its existence

-- What happens after the Department of Justice is notified?

The Department of Justice will begin its own investigation into your allegations. It isn't unusual for multiple extensions on the seal to be asked for and granted while a complex case is investigated.

How much evidence you are able to bring to the table can greatly affect the government's ability to successfully prosecute a fraud action. That means that its important to gather as much evidence as you can in support of your allegations before you bring the action.

If the government believes that it can prove the case, it will likely intervene and take charge. If the government declines to intervene, you can pursue the case on your own, but you may find it much more difficult to succeed.

-- Do you have to act alone?

If you and several coworkers become aware of the fraud at once and each of you have access to different pieces of information that prove what is happening, you can file the qui tam case together. While that ultimately means sharing the reward, it may also make proving the case much easier.

Source: FindLaw, "Qui Tam Actions: Overview," accessed Jan. 19, 2017

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