Frequently Asked Questions about Reporting Fraud, Waste or Abuse
What is fraud, waste and abuse?
Fraud is a knowing misrepresentation of the truth or a deliberate concealment of important information that causes another to act and that results in harm, such as a monetary loss.
Waste occurs when a government entity or official, or individuals or entities doing business with the government, take actions that have no benefit to the public. This can include unnecessary spending, such as taking unnecessary trips, approving costly office renovations, or overpaying an employee or vendor.
Abuse of public funds occurs when a person uses his or her public position or public resources for private benefit or in a manner that is illegal or inappropriate. Illegal activity includes theft, embezzlement, bribery and bid-rigging. Other examples of waste would be using one’s public position to steer a government contract to a friend or family member, improperly sharing confidential information from a government database, or using public resources (such as office space or office supplies) to run a private business.
Those who do business with, or who receive public funds from, the government may also commit fraud, waste and abuse. This could include fraudulent billing, theft, collusion among vendors, falsifying procurement documents, bribing or receiving kickbacks from public officials, and misusing grant funds.
Can I make a complaint without giving my name?
Yes, you may submit a tip or complaint without giving your name. However, please remember that we need enough information to investigate or take action. The more information you provide, the better able we are to take action. Giving us your name and contact information will enable us to reach you if we need to follow up with you about your complaint.
What information do I need to provide the OIG to make a complaint?
Please visit our how-to page for everything you need to know for reporting public fraud, waste, or abuse.
Is my complaint a public record?
No, your complaint will not be public information. Under Massachusetts law, all OIG records – including complaints – are handled confidentially and are exempt from the Public Records Law. This includes all the information your complaint contains, such as your identity.
In some cases it may be necessary to share your complaint if we need to refer the matter to a more suitable agency or work with another agency to investigate your complaint. Even so, your name will not be disclosed without your written consent. You will receive advanced notice from our office in the rare instance that we cannot avoid disclosure.
When you report a complaint to one of our hotlines, state whistleblower laws may protect you from retaliation.
What actions will the OIG take in response to a complaint?
We review each complaint we receive to determine whether it falls within our jurisdiction. If we determine that a crime or other misuse of public funds or property may have taken place, we may conduct an investigation. Some complaints lead to broad reviews or investigations. We refer some complaints to other agencies if we determine that they are outside of our jurisdiction. Other complaints are closed if we cannot confirm the claims in them.
When we conduct an investigation or review, we may take a variety of actions, including summonsing records and interviewing witnesses. At the end of an investigation we may refer the case to a prosecuting authority (for instance, the Attorney General) if we have reasonable cause to believe criminal behavior has occurred. We may make recommendations to improve internal and financial controls to prevent the misuse of government assets. In addition, we may prepare a public report or letter with our findings. We also may require the relevant agency or municipality to submit a corrective action plan.
How do I know if the OIG is the right agency to handle my complaint?
We handle complaints of fraud, waste or abuse of public money (such as embezzlement of government funds or overbilling on public contracts) and public resources (such as using government resources to operate a private business or steering contracts to friends or family members). For additional examples of the types of cases we investigate, please visit our fraud reporting how-to page.
By law, we have jurisdiction to look into spending by all state and local government, including authorities, districts, instrumentalities and other political subdivisions. Our office also reviews those who receive state, local or federal money, including companies, non-profit organizations and individuals.
Our investigations can include the following examples:
- Improper relationships between a public employee and a vendor, including the exchange of favors, gifts or non-public information
- A board or commission member is not acting in the public’s best interest
- Abuse of overtime or pension benefits
- Misuse of government-issued credit card or property
- Theft or misuse of public funds or property
- Corruption in a bid for a government contract
- Overbilling or other fraudulent actions by vendors with government contacts
Do you investigate wrongdoing by private organizations or individuals who don’t work for the government?
Yes, if the wrongdoing involves public funds or resources. However, we don’t investigate federal agencies. In addition, we don’t handle most types of complaints related to E-Z Pass, Social Security, housing benefits, public assistance programs, unemployment benefits, phone and internet scams, and consumer complaints. Visit our fraud reporting how-to page for contact information for the organizations and agencies that handle these types of complaints.
Does the OIG handle complaints related to the MBTA or public transportation?
Our Internal Special Audit Unit (ISAU) handles complaints of fraud, waste and abuse of public and private transportation funds. This includes spending by MassDOT and the MBTA, as well as regional transit authorities, the use of Chapter 90 funds and other expenditures of transportation funds. You can submit your tip or complaint through our fraud hotline for public transportation projects and spending.
The ISAU doesn’t handle billing disputes related to E-Z Pass, or complaints related to MBTA Customer Support, driving safety or road debris. Visit our how-to page for reporting fraud related to public transportation projects and spending for contact information for the organizations and agencies that handle these types of complaints.
Ready to make a complaint?
We are here to help! To file a complaint about the suspected fraud, waste or abuse of government funds or property, contact our confidential fraud reporting hotline. If you have a complaint about the misuse of public funds or property related to transportation projects and spending, contact our public transportation fraud reporting hotline.
OIG Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline Video
Whistleblower Laws, Retaliation and Intimidation: You May Be Protected
What is a whistleblower?
A whistleblower is a person who exposes suspected fraud, waste, abuse or other misconduct by an individual or organization. Often, a whistleblower is employed by, works with or has some other formal relationship with the alleged wrongdoer. However, that is not always the case. A whistleblower may be a vendor, subcontractor or a concerned member of the public. A person may be considered a whistleblower when they report the misconduct either internally or to an outside watchdog entity, such as the OIG.
Whistleblowers may be entitled to legal protections from retaliation under state or federal law, provided they follow certain procedures outlined in the whistleblower statutes.
What laws exist to protect whistleblowers?
Massachusetts whistleblower laws are designed to protect people who report information about suspected illegal, wasteful or unethical activity. When you report suspicions regarding illegal activity by an individual or organization to our public fraud, waste and abuse hotline or public transportation fraud, waste and abuse hotline, you and your identity may be protected under state law (M.G.L. c. 12A, § 14(b)). State law also specifically protects you from retaliation by your employer for submitting a complaint or disclosing information to the OIG (M.G.L. c. 12A, § 14(c)).
Other state laws, including the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act (M.G.L. c. 149, § 185), may provide further protections. State laws also criminalizes the intimidation of whistleblowers. (M.G.L. c. 268, § 13B).
What is retaliation?
Retaliation occurs when an employer punishes, or threatens to punish, an employee for reporting fraud, waste or abuse, or for cooperating with an investigation of such misconduct. The misconduct may be perpetrated by the employer or another party with whom the employer has a business relationship.
Retaliation may take the form of an adverse employment action by the employer, including demotion, suspension, denial of a promotion or raise, or firing. Employees may be entitled to legal protection from retaliation under state or federal law, provided they follow certain statutory procedures.
Retaliatory behavior in other contexts, such as an agency punishing a vendor or a contractor punishing a subcontractor, may be prohibited by state or federal law as well, depending on the circumstances.
State law protects whistleblowers from retaliation.
What is intimidation?
Intimidation is when someone makes a direct or indirect threat, harasses, or attempts to injure or harass a witness or potential witness. In Massachusetts, witness intimidation is a crime. Such behavior against a witness or potential witness in an OIG investigation is illegal. (M.G.L. c. 268, § 13B).