The Law Firm of Piacentile, Stefanowski & Malherbe LLP
How to become a whistleblower

How to become a whistleblower

If you suspect that fraud may be occurring in your workplace keep reading to know what’s the right process to become a whistleblower. Many of those who blow the whistle are just ordinary workers doing their jobs. According to a 2007 National Business Ethics Survey®, 56% of all employees witnessed conduct that violated the law, company policy, or company ethical standards.

There are many available whistleblower programs. The most frequently used are whistleblower actions under the False Claims Act, through the SEC Whistleblower Program, the Foreign Practices Act Whistleblower Program, the CFTC Whistleblower Program, and the IRS Whistleblower Program. There is also now the newly enacted Anti-Money Laundering Whistleblower Program. There are also numerous environmental whistleblower programs. In some instances, claims can be filed under multiple laws. The timeline and procedure for a given case depend on the program that it’s filed under. For example, an individual with knowledge of a medical device company paying kickbacks to doctors could file an FCA claim against the company for violating Medicare regulation. At the same time, he can also file another litigation under the Dodd-Frank Act (SEC program) for violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) by falsifying corporate records in order to conceal the bribes.

Whistleblowers Must Strictly Adhere to Numerous Complex Rules to Properly File Their Whistleblower Action and Potentially Qualify for an Award 

Whistleblower laws are complex. The process can be long and procedural rules have to be strictly followed in order for the whistleblower action to proceed and for the whistleblower to potentially earn an award. 

Some of these rules may seem counterintuitive. For example, under the False Claims Act, you as a whistleblower should keep quiet about your claim, other than when reporting it to the government, and to the right governmental agency at that. This is because the False Claims Act has what is called the Public Disclosure Bar, which could prevent you from filing an action under the False Claims Act unless you were the original source of the information. Additionally, when a whistleblower files a False Claims Act lawsuit, it is filed under seal, which means the whistleblower and their attorney(s) cannot publicly speak about the claim until the government asks the court to unseal the filing. Such complaints are often under seal for a year or longer, and in many cases, a False Claims Act case could be under seal for 3 or 4 or more years. The rationale of this rule is to ensure that the government has an opportunity and time to investigate the claim without the defendant being notified of it and potentially destroying the evidence. 

There are many such nuanced, complex rules arising under the various whistleblower programs. This is why it is important to have legal counsel on your side if deciding to pursue a whistleblower legal action. 

The timeline to report a fraud

The statute of limitations controls how long an individual can wait before filing a claim. All qui tam cases must be filed within a certain number of years since the illegal misconduct occurred. The False Claims Act’sstatute of limitations requires whistleblowers to come forward within 6 years if the fraud has been discovered (meaning the criminal behavior is known, but there is insufficient evidence to open a case) or 10 years if it remained hidden (meaning the fraud is not known before the relator comes forth). The IRS and SEC whistleblower programs have several variable statutes of limitations that can be as little as three years. Also, by reporting the unlawful scheme quickly, relators increase the chances that their case will be successful and that the government may ultimately increase their final reward.

Contact An Attorney


If you want to blow the whistle, you should contact an attorney for  several reasons:

  • If you are filing a case under the False Claims Act, it is required that you have a lawyer to represent you.
  • For the SEC and CFTC whistleblower programs, hiring an attorney allows you to file a complaint anonymously. This is an important type of whistleblower protection.
  • Having an expert lawyer in your corner to organize, file, and facilitate your whistleblower claim dramatically increases the likelihood of your case being successful, which is the basic requirement for claiming a reward.

Speaking to an expert in legal matters to better arm themselves with the critical information that a whistleblower needs to protect themselves and to truly understand their options. Your first communications with our attorneys and investigators will be strictly confidential and all your communications with the law firm will remain privileged and secure no matter whether you choose to pursue a case or not.

Filing A Claim Under The False Claims Act (FCA)

If a person has knowledge of corporate wrongdoing that causes the federal government to lose money or pay for substandard goods or services, their attorneys will most likely file a claim under the FCA. These federal complaints are called qui tam cases and are the most common whistleblower (also known as “relator”) actions. The complaint is filed “under seal” on behalf of the United States Government and provides details that explain how the company is committing fraud. For as long as the seal remains in place, only the court, the federal authorities, and the relator’s legal representatives will know about the case.

This way the defrauding companies are not alerted that they’re under investigation and the citizen who blew the whistle is protected as well. While the case remains under seal, the legal team will provide the authorities with a “disclosure statement” containing all the documents, files, emails, and evidence collected. The U.S. Department of Justice will use them to determine whether it would like to pursue the case; the government has the option to join an FCA action, known as “intervening”, but may choose not to do so. If the government does not intervenes, a whistleblower can continue to pursue the case in the court and, if successful, may get an even larger reward.


Organizing Your Case

After an initial discussion, you or your legal representative will begin to organize your case by reviewing the details of the fraud, studying any relevant documents and information you possess, and conducting an investigation of the company or companies involved. This information will serve as the foundation of your case.

During this time, you should not discuss your litigation with anyone. Under the FCA, if you tell anyone besides your attorneys about the investigation, you are seriously risking your entire claim.

If, after this information is gathered, both you and your attorney feel you have a viable case and wish to proceed further, you need to sign a retainer agreement with the law firm. This contract specifies you will split a part of your future reward with your legal team; this means that you will never be obligated to pay an hourly fee or for the time and resources of the firm until you receive a reward. Now, you and your lawyer just need to determine the best program to file a claim under.

Filing a SEC Whistleblower Claim

To submit a claim about a potential security or financial fraud, the relator’s legal representative will complete a Form TCR or submit the equivalent information through the SEC’s Electronic Data Collection System. A claim is more likely to draw the authorities’ attention if the information the provided has been well researched and carefully presented. In some circumstances, the attorney will also prepare a draft complaint on behalf of the SEC to aid the agency in its investigation and prosecution.

Filing an IRS Whistleblower Claim

Under the IRS whistleblower law, an individual knowing that a person or corporation is committing any type of tax fraud may file a tip anonymously. through their attorney, keeping his anonymity throughout the entirety of the case. This type of action begins by submitting IRS Form 211. This form includes any documents and evidence that show the suspected scam and help the IRS collect owed taxes. There are almost no limits on what evidence the whistleblower can provide.

U.S. Government Initial Investigation and Intervention

Once a claim has been filed, and the whistleblower has provided the respective office with any evidence he possesses, the government will begin its own investigation. In False Claims Act cases, the Department of Justice (DOJ) staff will spend several months conducting interviews, as well as researching the company and the fraudulent scheme. Afterwise, the government determines whether it would like to pursue the case on its own, and chose whether DOJ attorneys are going to take over prosecuting the case or will work in conjunction with the relator’s ones to build the strongest case against the defendant. Should the government decline to intervene, the whistleblower has the option to pursue the case independently hoping to get a higher reward. Unlike FCA cases, however, IRS and SEC ones cannot be continued if the agencies choose not to act.

Government Prosecution

If the government chooses to pursue a case, a federal enforcement agency, such as the Department Of Justice or the Securities & Exchange Commission, will lead the investigation. The agency will actively litigate the case and attempt to ultimately collect a fine or settle with the defendant.

During this stage, the whistleblower mostly waits while the government’s case makes its way through the court system. At times, the authorities or the relator’s lawyers may call on him to provide additional information, help investigators understand a particular situation or simply keep him informed about the status of the case.

Whistleblower Settlements & Rewards

If the case is successful in court and leads to a recovery of fraudulently gained funds, the whistleblower receives a percentage of the recovered amount as a reward. To be eligible for this award, a series of legal requirements  must be fulfilled. The size of the reward is discretionary to an extent, but typically falls within the range between 10% and 30% of the amount of money recollected by the authorities.

The more you wait, the less are the chances that your case will be successful in court. Waste no time and get in touch with our legal team. We will assist you and provide you any legal advice you may need for free.