How to be a Whistleblower? Everything You Need to Know About Anonymous Whistleblowing
What would you do if you uncovered corruption, fraud or other illegal practices in your organization, or done by a government agency?
Would you stay silent or would you become a whistleblower?
If you said the second, this article is the perfect way for you to learn what it means to be a whistleblower and to understand how anonymous whistleblowing works.
Can You Be a Whistleblower?
What does it take to be a whistleblower?
If you have information about corruption or fraud in your organization, you can become a whistleblower.
Of course, you also need the willingness and bravery to raise your voice against it. This means you have to risk losing your job, financial security, your family's financial security and sometimes even your freedom.
In other words, you have to know how to whistle blow anonymously.
How do you whistleblow without getting caught?
- Leave as little digital footprint as you can. The Internet offers a ton of ways to become anonymous, including anonymous networks, anonymous email and so forth. Use them.
- Use your devices, not the company's. If you need to copy or send a file, do so from a device that you own and have full control of, not from the one that your company has provided you.
- Don't change your habits. Act like everything is normal. Show up for work as usual, do your job as you normally would.
- Pay with cash wherever you can. Credit and debit cars leave a trail behind that can be followed back to you. Be sure to avoid this by paying in cash wherever you can, or use cryptocurrencies or gift cards for online transactions.
- Don't talk about blowing the whistle before taking action. This leans into tip 3. Keep your mouth shut. Don't talk about how you're going to "tell everything about the boss". Before you know it, the word will spread and reach your boss and you haven't actually done anything yet. Take action first, then talk about it.
What Whistleblower Protection Can You Expect?
How are whistleblowers protected?
Two main laws govern whistleblower protection:
- The False Claims Act
- The Dodd-Frank Act
The False Claims Act, or FCA, is also known as the "Lincoln Law (it was passed during the administration of Abraham Lincoln, hence the name). This federal law covers any false claims against the government and imposes a $2,000 fine for each such claim.
While this may look like a perfect deterrent against whistleblowers, the FCA also allows individuals to file suits against the people who have defrauded the government on its behalf. These are called "qui tam" suits.
The Dodd-Frank Act, by contrast, is a much newer law, having been enacted in 2010. Its purpose is to encourage individuals with knowledge and information about securities or commodity laws violations to speak up as whistleblowers.
The Act was further instrumental in creating two important whistleblower programs:
- The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Whistleblower Program and
- The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Whistleblower Program
Since these two are very important for our story, we'll talk about each whistleblower program in a bit more detail next.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Whistleblower Program
The SEC Whistleblower Program is a part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which was signed by Barrack Obama in 2010 as a response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Before SEC and the Dodd-Frank Act, whistleblower protection was mainly under the 2002 Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which often proved not enough to provide adequate protection to whistleblowers as it largely left to companies to internally deal with fraud and other misconduct (you can imagine how that went).
With the SEC program, whistleblowers not only became protected as, according to the Dodd-Frank Act:
"Employers may not fire, demote, suspend, harass or discriminate against an individual who provides information to the SEC or assists the agency"
In addition, whistleblowers are protected by confidentiality, and can report through a lawyer and are rewarded 10-30% of the SEC collected amount if the sanction goes over $1 million.
Here are the whistleblower awards by amount and covered actions by award percentage between 1st January 2012 and 31st July 2020:
How do I report anonymously to the SEC?
To report a wrongdoing to the SEC, either:
- Submit your tip electronically via SEC's Tips, Complaints and Referrals Portal.
- Mail or fax a Form TCR to:
14420 Alermarie Point Place
Chantilly, VA 20151-1750
ATTN: SEC TCR Submissions
Fax: (703) 813-9322
The Commodities Futures Trading Commission Whistleblower Program Explained
The other program worth mentioning is the Commodities Futures Trading Commission whistleblower program.
This particular program encourages individuals to come out as whistleblowers if they're aware of any commodity law violations by notifying the CFTC.
Like the SEC program, the CFTC whistleblower program also provides job protection, confidentiality and offers rewards to whistleblowers.
Employers are discouraged to retaliate in any way against the whistleblower, who can remain anonymous (except in certain cases) and whistleblowers are also incentives with 10-30% of sanctions exceeding $1 million.
Understanding the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA)
Another important law that protects federal employees and applicants for employment when they reveal information pertaining to authority abuse, violations of law and regulation, fraud, etc, is the Whistleblower Protection Act, or WPA.
The Whistleblower Protect Act is intended to prevent federal employees from not taking, or threatening to take any personnel action against an employee or an applicant due to their whistleblowing activities.
This act is further expanded to protect informants into the Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act (WPEA) in 2012.
The WPEA further clarifies the scope of whistleblower protections, including that whistleblowers won't lose protection if the disclosure:
- Was made to someone who has also taken part in the violation
- The violation was already disclosed
- Was based on the employee's personal motives
- Was made during the employee's normal course of duty (the employee needs to show that they were a victim of reprisal and whistleblower retaliation as a result)
- Happened after a certain time has already passed between the violation and the disclosure
How the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Protects Whistleblowers?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows people to access Washington DC records and discover what information or files an agency has on them.
As such, the FOIA is an important law for whistleblowers as it allows them to access government records they would not be able to get otherwise.
The Freedom of Information Act has two parts.
The first part defines what details and how the agency must publish in the Federal Registrar. For more detail, read this Q&A on the FOIA by the National Whistleblower Center (NWC).
The second part of FOIA deals with allowing the public to access and view the records of government agencies. This allows any individual to see how an agency is spending money (tax money, that is), what are the intended effects of its policies and the reasoning behind them.
The Attorney-Client Relationship in Whistleblowing
If you're thinking of becoming a whistleblower, you should look into hiring an attorney who can advise you on the best and safest course of action to take based on your circumstances.
A whistleblower can hire an attorney on a contingency basis and only pay them after they receive a reward and the case concluded successfully.
Under the FCA act, whistleblower's qui tam cases must be filed by an attorney. A "qui tam" lawsui allows a private person (aka "relator") to prosecute a lawsuit in the name of the government and get a reward for it.
The Dodd-Frank Act, on the other hand, promotes anonymous whistleblowing by allowing whistleblowers to hire attorneys, which can file claims in their name with the SEC or the CFTC.
8 Important Whistleblower Tips to Follow
Now that we covered all of that, let's go over some important tips that every whistleblower should follow.
1) Should You Blow the Whistle?
Blowing the whistle on a wrongdoing is a big decision and one that requires considerable courage.
Many things will steer you away from this path.
For instance, this could be something that has become a part of the company culture. If "everybody is doing it", then it becomes much easier to turn a blind eye and avoid reporting. However, this rationale is simply wrong.
Another reason not to report a wrongdoing is the fear of reprisal. People might be telling you not to do it for your financial security and if you want to keep your job. Thankfully, there are laws protecting whistleblowers from retaliation, so you shouldn't fear it, plus you can always ensure anonymity by hiring an attorney to take your case.
2) To Go at it Alone or Hire a Lawyer?
Hiring a whistleblower attorney could be the single most important decision to make, following the decision to blow the whistle in the first place.
Keep in mind that a whistleblowing cases can take years to conclude and can be difficult. You'll need an experienced attorney and a law firm in your corner.
However, when hiring a lawyer, consider if they're using an encrypted email. Here's why lawyers need to encrypt their email.
3) Understand the Company Whistleblowing Policy
Before you make the move, be sure to familiarise yourself with the whistleblowing policy in your company.
This policy explains who to report the violation to as well as how the investigation will be conducted.
4) Know What is Unlawful and What is Not
Just because you don't like a company policy or business practice, doesn't mean you should blow the whistle on it.
Understand that you're only protected when revealing dangerous or unlawful practices, like securities fraud or serious health breaches.
5) You are Only to Report, Not Investigate
Remember that your job as a whistleblower is to report and not investigate. Leave the investigation part to the others.
Trying to play detective will probably be "more than you bargained for".
6) Report the Wrongdoing the Right Way
It's often tempting to attempt to leverage public opinion by going to the press or social media, however, this is the wrong way.
Not only might this move deny you the protection guaranteed by the laws and the rewards, but it is also a dangerous path to take.
We've seen too many cases of public opinion turning into "mob opinion" and the "cancel culture" in the last year or two and is something best avoided.
7) NDAs Don't Apply to Whistleblowing
Your employer might have asked you to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement) when you started working for them, however this does not apply to legitimate whistleblowing on unlawful and illegal activities.
An NDA is a contract between the two parties that prevents sensitive information such as trade or company secrets to be shared with others.
In other words, your company can't hide behind an NDA.
8) Use Anonymous Email
When it comes to anonymous whistleblowing, using a good anonymous and secure email service is crucial. Not only will this allow you to have a record of what, when and to whom you said something, it will also ensure your anonymity.
If you've decided to become a whistleblower, we applaud your bravery. This is a big decision and one you certainly didn't make easily.
We hope that this guide has helped you understand what risks you'll be taking as well as what are the best moves you should be taking when it comes to anonymous whistleblowing.
Looking for a safe and anonymous whistle blowing email to report a wrongdoing in your company or to communicate with your attorney? Sign up to CTemplar and create an anonymous email account today.