By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt
By this stage in the pandemic, most people would think that we have seen it all from scammers and imposters seeking to take advantage of our fellow citizens as they navigate these challenges. Think again. A new scam has emerged, preying on individuals who have lost a loved one to COVID-19 and are entitled to federal assistance.
Earlier this month, the Federal Emergency Management Agency launched a new program that would provide up to $9,000 for funeral expenses to people who have had to pay for laying a loved one to rest. The program covers deaths from COVID-19 since January 20, 2020.
To apply for the program, survivors need to show documents including receipts for expenses and a death certificate that says that the death happened in the United States or its territories and was likely caused by COVID-19.
FEMA and the Federal Trade Commission have reported that scammers are reaching out to survivors, posing as government employees offering to help with the process of registering for federal assistance. Unfortunately, these imposters are setting themselves up to take more than the government assistance. With access to financial information, a loved one’s death certificate and the survivor’s personally identifying information, the imposters are able to pocket up to $9,000 and cause hardship through identity theft for years to come.
Here’s what you need to know:
- The government won’t ask you to pay anything to get this financial help. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- FEMA will not contact you until you have called FEMA or have applied for assistance. Anyone who contacts you out of the blue and claims to be a federal employee or from FEMA is a scammer.
- 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. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- Don’t give your own or your deceased loved one’s personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you out of the blue. Anyone who does that and asks for that information is a scammer.
FEMA’s Funeral Assistance FAQs have information about the documents you need to apply for funeral expenses. The FAQs also tell you what to do if the death certificate didn’t identify COVID-19 as the likely cause of death, as sometimes happened early in the pandemic. You can learn more about this federal program at the FEMA website at www.fema.gov/disasters/coronavirus/economic/funeral-assistance
If you doubt a caller claiming to be from FEMA is telling the truth, hang up and report it to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the U.S. Department of Justice National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.
For more tips on staying safe from COVID-19 scams or to file a complaint, visit our consumer protection website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org or call our consumer protection hotline at (800) 432-2310.