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Scam alert: Imposters pose as FEMA officials to trick grieving family members

Scammers are using a new United States federal program that helps to pay for funeral expenses...
Scammers are using a new United States federal program that helps to pay for funeral expenses of people who died from COVID-19 as a chance to steal personal information from bereaved family members. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)(Damian Dovarganes | AP)
Published: Jun. 8, 2021 at 9:37 AM CDT
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(Gray News) - Scammers are using a new United States federal program that helps to pay for funeral expenses of people who died from COVID-19 as a chance to steal personal information from bereaved family members.

According to the Better Business Bureau, the scam involves someone calling, emailing or texting to say they are from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or another government agency, as part of the official COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program.

The “government official” claims you qualify for financial assistance, but first they need personal information to register you for the program. Scammers may ask for the name, birth date and social security number of a deceased family member – which could lead to identity theft.

Some scammers posing as FEMA also say they are following up on your COVID-19 vaccine, telling people they didn’t fill out all their paperwork.

How to spot this scam

  • The real version of the FEMA program has no deadline to apply, so you don’t need to take immediate action. No cap on funding has been set, so funds are not going to run out.
  • Be wary of out-of-the-blue calls, emails or text messages claiming to be from the government for this FEMA program and others. In general, government officials will not contact you using these methods unless you called the agency beforehand or applied for funeral assistance.
  • Think something seems suspicious? Reach out to the agency directly. If you doubt that a FEMA representative is legitimate, hang up the phone or stop emailing. Contact the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline, 866-720-5721. You also may contact local police.
  • Check for lookalikes. Research to see if the government agency or organization that contacted you actually exists. Scammers often make up names of agencies and/or grants.
  • Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant or program. It is not really free if there is a fee involved. A real government agency will not ask for an advanced processing fee. Instead, find out if the agency is legitimate by checking grants.gov.

If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), report it to BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others avoid falling victim to scams.

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