COVID-19 has devastated many families and in the wake of grief, many government-funded programs are being created to offer relief to those most affected by the pandemic. Of course, with a new government program comes scammers.
A real government relief program, directed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, will pay up to $9,000 for COVID-related funeral expenses incurred since January 20, 2020.
Even before the new program was announced, FEMA said it had reports of scammers contacting people and “offering” to register them for assistance. The con artist may contact the victims via an unsolicited text, email or phone call. In some cases, the scammer may contact the victim via social media and begin asking for personal information.
This scam can be used to steal personal information such as Social Security numbers or it can be used to scam grieving family members out of money. In many instances, scammers are either hacking the social media accounts of victims’ contacts or creating separate lookalike profiles by stealing photos and personal information.
Use these tips to help avoid this type of scam:
FEMA will not contact you unless you have called them or have applied for assistance. Anyone who contacts you out of the blue and claims to be a federal employee or from FEMA is most likely a scammer.
The government won’t ask you to pay anything to get financial help. Government programs do not require pre-payment, shipping or handling, or any other fee associated with a grant or assistance.
Be wary of your “friends” online. Your friend or family member may have impeccable judgment in real life. But online, email messages, social posts and direct messages could be from a hacked or impersonated account.
Don’t trust your caller ID. Your caller ID may say FEMA, but the internet has made it possible for scammers to use fake IDs when they call your home.
Protect your Social Security number. Don’t share your own or your deceased loved one’s personal or financial information, including Social Security numbers, insurance card numbers or bank account numbers, with anyone unless there’s a good reason, and you’re sure who you’re giving it to.
If you aren’t sure if a caller claiming to be from FEMA is legitimate, hang up and report it to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the National Center for Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. Survivors of someone who has died of COVID can apply for benefits by contacting FEMA at 844-684-6333.