If You Get This Message From the Government, Don't Open It, Officials Say

Fraudsters are using this COVID-related scam to take advantage of grieving families.

It's almost impossible to overstate the toll that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken on humanity globally. But even as the spread of the virus continues to slow down, many families in the U.S. have been left grieving the tragic loss of a loved one. As part of the national relief effort, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will provide financial assistance of up to $9,000 for COVID-19 related funeral expenses. But while the funds may help remove a major burden for some families during a difficult time, officials are now warning the public about scammers who are taking advantage of the FEMA funeral program to steal from people when they're at their most vulnerable.

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The Better Business Bureau (BBB) reports that the latest COVID-related scam is preying upon bereaved families. Fraudsters pretending to be representatives from FEMA or other government agencies are sending outreach messages claiming that the recipient qualifies for financial assistance to cover funeral costs. The scammer will then ask for personal information to "register" you for the program, often asking for the name, birth date, and Social Security number of the deceased person.

Unfortunately, scammers aren't just taking advantage of the funeral assistance program either. Other fraudsters claiming to be FEMA representatives are calling or messaging people, claiming to need personal information as a follow-up to your COVID-19 vaccination, which can then be used to commit identity theft.

"I was called by a man who said he was 'FEMA,'" one person told the BBB's Scam Tracker. "He wanted me to give him my Social Security number. He claimed I did not fill out all the paperwork when I got vaccinated."

As a result of the burgeoning scam, the BBB and FEMA are warning the public to "be wary of out-of-the-blue calls, emails or text message claiming to be from the government." The agency states that families are never contacted unless they have already reached out to FEMA or applied for assistance from the program.

The BBB also recommends looking up the name of the agency that contacted you to see if it actually exists, as well as to be cautious of anyone asking for you to pay a processing or sign-up fee for the free program. If you suspect you've been approached by a scammer, given them information, or lost money, the agency urges you to contact the FEMA Helpline at  800-621-3362 or the National Center for Disaster Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

RELATED: If You Get This Message From Amazon, Don't Open It, Experts Warn.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary covers beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He's the owner of Alphabet City Beer Co. in New York City and is a Certified Cicerone. Read more
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