A new scheme is targeting Americans who need help paying funeral expenses for loved ones who died of COVID-19, officials warn.
“Government imposters may have hit a new low” with the scam directed at grieving families, the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday in a news release.
In the scheme, a scammer contacts people who lost a loved one to the coronavirus and offers to help them get assistance, officials said.
But a real-life government program that covers funeral expenses won’t ever reach out to anyone who hasn’t signed up to get help, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Here’s what to know.
What are the warning signs?
Linda Pym told WSPA she reached out to the federal government to see if she could get money after her husband died of COVID-19 in October. But when she got a call back from a spam number, she said the person on the other end of the line asked for her Social Security number but not about her husband.
“I was thinking of all of the people who had dealt with the death of a loved one, thinking they’re giving information to the right people and maybe were not,” Pym said, according to WSPA.
The U.S. government urges people to be cautious and hang up the phone if they don’t think they’re talking to a real FEMA representative. Officials said it’s best to avoid revealing personal information if you receive unsolicited messages from someone who claims to work for the agency.
“The government won’t call, text, email, or contact you on social media and ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number,” the FTC said.
Also, it’s likely a scam if someone contacts you unexpectedly to offer help with assistance programs or ask for a deceased relative’s information, according to the government. Another sign of a scheme is a person requesting that you pay before receiving federal help.
Anyone who thinks a scammer contacted them can report it to FEMA at 800-621-3362, the National Center for Disaster Fraud at 866-720-5721, or the FTC at reportFraud.ftc.gov.
What assistance can I get?
The FEMA Funeral Assistance program is providing up to $9,000 in relief funds to people whose loved ones died after contracting COVID-19. The money is meant to go toward funeral expenses that were paid after Jan. 20, 2020, officials said.
People are eligible for benefits if their loved ones died in the United States and there’s record of burial costs or other money spent after a coronavirus-related death. To start an application, call 844-684-6333.
Since the pandemic forced lockdowns in March 2020, many Americans have faced financial hardships. Millions of jobs went away, and companies hit workers with salary cuts as they tried to stay afloat.