Hagens Berman Blog

5 Things Whistleblowers Must Know Before Reporting Fraud

by HB Whistleblower Legal Team

01/08/2018

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Whistleblowers assume risks when they choose to report fraud or wrongdoing, but an even greater jeopardy comes with blowing the whistle without knowing the basics about your rights. You don’t want to bring a knife to a gunfight, and you don’t want to blow the whistle without preparation.

1. Know how to choose a whistleblower lawyer.

Choosing to blow the whistle may be one of the toughest decisions you’ll make, but second to that, choosing the right whistleblower law firm is paramount. It can mean the difference between your whistleblower case being ignored or dismissed—or making an impact that will be felt around the world while being rewarded financially and protecting your career and reputation. When searching for a whistleblower lawyer to aid in your claim, seek out an experienced law firm with top-tier attorneys and strong pedigrees in litigation and whistleblower work. You want a firm with a record of success at the top of the profession. Be realistic. About 90 percent of False Claims Act cases are declined, and more than 99 percent of the cases submitted to the SEC, CFTC, and IRS will be unsuccessful. You need a law firm with the reputation and resources to investigate, advocate, and litigate your case and lawyers who challenge powerful corporations every day and with great success. Building a strong whistleblower case to file and present to the government requires more than someone willing to be a courier for a whistleblower and his or her information. A large firm, with the depth and resources to develop a complex fraud case in prolonged litigation and carry investigations as far as necessary can make all the difference. Only a handful of law firms in the U.S. can properly advise you about every available legal avenue for your information, whether through a whistleblower program or other form of litigation.

2. Know when to act.

Time is one of the biggest (and sometimes simplest) determining factors in a successful whistleblower case. It’s important to discuss your potential whistleblower case with a knowledgeable attorney as soon as possible because whistleblower laws are time sensitive, and if stalled, your whistleblower claim runs the risk of failure simply based on the passage of time. Also, when evaluating a whistleblower case and planning a potential reward for the whistleblower, the amount of time between your awareness of the fraud and the reporting of the fraud does play a part in determining an award amount. Becoming a whistleblower is a serious decision, however, and whistleblowers need to have the confidence that what they’ve witnessed or have knowledge of, is indeed fraud in the eyes of the law.

3. Know how to be safe.

Despite many existing protections in place for whistleblowers, it’s important to be smart about how you blow the whistle. Many companies have their own “whistleblower” protocols in place to entice employees to report wrongdoing within the company. Such reporting can have dire consequences. Before reporting internally, it is best to speak with experienced whistleblower counsel at a law firm with a range and depth of experience ranging from all manner of fraud to retaliation protection laws under state and federal False Claims Act and the SEC and CFTC whistleblower protection provisions. If used correctly, many whistleblower laws provide protection in reporting fraud, and finding the right legal representation can help ensure you won’t face repercussions for righting wrongs.

4. Know the rewards and protections that are available.

Whistleblowers who report fraud under the various state and federal whistleblower programs are entitled to sizable whistleblower rewards—up to 30 percent—if their reporting leads to a meaningful recovery. Only certain kinds of wrongdoing, however, qualify for awards. Various provisions of the False Claims Act and SEC/CFTC and IRS programs can limit your awards. Experienced whistleblower counsel will help you maximize your recovery. Most whistleblower programs extend protections, including anonymity, to whistleblowers. Whistleblowers, however, still face various forms of blacklisting, retaliatory termination and other mistreatment as a result of their activities in reporting fraud. Knowing what rights you have and what rewards might be available to you is critical.

5. Know what defines “fraud” under the whistleblower reward programs.

This last step may sound like a no-brainer, but can be the most critical in reporting fraud. Without knowing you’ve witnessed something that qualifies as a violation of the False Claims Act, securities laws and regulations, the Commodities Exchange Act and CFTC regulations, or tax law, you could miss an opportunity to blow the whistle on corporate wrongdoing. Or you could be putting a career in jeopardy without a strong whistleblower case with which to go forward. With experienced attorneys who are well-versed in the many areas of fraud covered by the False Claims Act and the SEC, CFTC, and IRS whistleblower programs, you can make an informed decision whether to proceed with your information and how best to proceed with it if you do.