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Unscrupulous individuals are invading the lives of families who lost a loved one to COVID-19. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released an announcement on April 13, 2021, that warns scammers are masquerading as Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employees and offering to help pay funeral expenses.
A real government relief program will pay up to $9,000 for burial-related expenses. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 allocated these funds to reimburse expenses paid since January 20, 2020. Survivors can apply by calling FEMA at the toll-free number posted below; multi-lingual services are available.
The program is available to American citizens, nationals of the U.s. territories, non-citizens with legal status, regardless of their income level. Applicants must show present documents such as receipts for expenses and a death certificate that indicates the likely cause of death was COVID-19 and that the death occurred in the United States or its territories.
The FTC states the program began on April 12, but they had reports of scammers contacting people and “offering” to assist them in registering for the assistance.
FAQ People Need to Know to Stay Clear of Scammers
- FEMA will not contact someone until they have called the agency or have filed an application for assistance. Anyone who initiates contact and claims to be a federal employee or from FEMA is a scammer.
- The government will not ask a person to pay anything to receive financial assistance. Anyone who does is committing the fraudulent act of phishing for personal information to use in nefarious ways like hacking or identity theft.
- Government agencies will never call, text, email, or make contact through social media. They will never ask for a person’s social security number, bank account information, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- Do not give anyone personal or financial information about oneself or the deceased loved one. Anyone reaching out to initiate contact is not employed by the U.S. government.
FEMA’s Funeral Assistance FAQs provide applicants with what is needed to request financial help. Also found in the FAQs section is what to do if the death certificate did not indicate COVID-19 was the likely cause of death, something that happened early in the pandemic.
If there is doubt about a caller’s identity or telling the truth, the FTC tells people to hang up and report it to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the National Center Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. They would also like a report to be filed at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Written by Cathy Milne-Ware
FTC: Scammers target loved ones of COVID-19 victims; by Seena Gressin; Attorney, Division of Consumer & Business, FTC.
FEMA: Funeral Assistance FAQ
FEMA: Toll-free number to file funeral expenses reimbursement 844-684-6333
Featured and Top Image Courtesy of Michael Himbeault’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Scott D’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License