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Voice of the consumer: Scammers imitate FEMA to defraud families of COVID victims

Jenna Middaugh
Jenna Middaugh(KKTV)
Updated: Jun. 14, 2021 at 6:37 AM MDT
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Our 11 News Call For Action team pens a weekly column for our news partner The Gazette. Previous columns can be found here.

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning people to be on the lookout for scammers posing as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

As part of the American Rescue Plan, which passed in March, FEMA is helping to pay for the funerals of people who died from COVID-19. The financial assistance applies to COVID-related funeral expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020. Unfortunately, FEMA said it has received reports of scammers using this program as an opportunity to steal personal information from people who died.

The BBB said this scam starts with a phone call, email or text message from someone claiming to work for FEMA or another government agency. The scammer might claim they’re reaching out to you as part of the official COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program.

The person contacting you will likely say you qualify for financial assistance, and they need your personal information to register you for the program. According to the BBB, they might ask for the name, birth date and Social Security number of a deceased family member. The BBB said sharing this information can lead to identity theft.

FEMA said it will not contact anyone until they have called FEMA or applied for assistance. So, if someone reaches out to you claiming they work for FEMA and you have not applied for the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program, be suspicious.

If this happens to you, the BBB said don’t let the scammers pressure you to take immediate action.

“The real version of the FEMA program has no deadline to apply. Also, no cap on funding has been set, so funds are not going to run out,” the BBB said in a news release.

In a different variation of this scam, the BBB said scammers might pose as FEMA and say they’re following up on your COVID-19 vaccine. According to the BBB, one person reported that a scammer called and wanted the person to give them their Social Security number. The person told the BBB the scammer claimed they did not fill out all the paperwork when they got vaccinated.

The BBB said people should be wary of out-of-the-blue calls, emails and text messages claiming to be from the government. As I’ve mentioned before, government imposter scams are very common, but government agencies typically only reach out by mail. So, it’s a red flag if someone calls, emails or texts you claiming to work for FEMA, the IRS or any other government agency.

If someone reaches out to you claiming they’re with FEMA and you’re suspicious, hang up the phone or stop emailing or texting them. Report suspected scams to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362 or the National Center for Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721.

To apply for the real COVID-19 Funeral Assistance program, call 844-684-6333. We have a link to more information about the program on www.kktv.com. Click the red ‘Find It’ tab on the right side of the screen.

Remember, you can also report scams to the BBB at www.BBB.org/ScamTracker, as well as the Colorado Attorney General’s Office. Call 800-222-4444 or visit www.StopFraudColorado.gov.

Click here to read the original column on gazette.com.

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