COVID-19 has resulted in the deaths of over half a million Americans, tearing apart families and in some cases, wiping them nearly clean out. Paying for an unexpected funeral is difficult enough for families of loss, however, this has undoubtedly been exacerbated by the financial strain of lockdowns and business closures that have followed in the wake of the coronavirus.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has opened a program specifically to help citizens who have lost family members during the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who are eligible can collect up to $9,000 per individual and up to $35,500 per applicant to help with funeral costs, cremation, burial, and other associated costs.
Unfortunately, scammers are hard at work even as an unprecedented pandemic rips through the nation and families lose multiple loved ones in one fell swoop. FEMA’s Funeral Assistance program has provided a new opportunity for fraudsters to take advantage of unsuspecting – and grieving – people.
Here’s what you should know about FEMA funeral funding scams, how you can protect yourself, and when you need to contact a consumer protection lawyer for help.
Not a New Tactic: Scammers Impersonate the Government to Swindle Unsuspecting Consumers
It’s not uncommon for scammers to impersonate government officials in an attempt to scam unsuspecting citizens out of benefits, health insurance, and social security payments. For example, a scammer may pose as an IRS agent and demand payment for a phony tax debt. Fraudsters will often ask for payment via an unconventional method, such as a grocery store gift card.
Understanding & Identifying FEMA Funeral Assistance Program Scams
If someone is calling you to offer to help you apply for funeral assistance, they are likely a scammer. FEMA will not contact you before you have filled out an application.
Another indicator that a caller may be fraudulent is if the call comes from an unidentified telephone number. FEMA agents that reach out to you, again only after you’ve applied for assistance, will not conceal the number they are calling from before contacting you.
If the caller identifies themselves as a funeral home that can help you apply or be a co-applicant is also likely disingenuous. FEMA does not allow funeral homes to apply for funding on behalf of their customers nor are funeral directors or staff allowed to be co-applicants. Legitimate funeral homes know this and will not reach out to you to offer you help with applying for FEMA benefits.
FEMA scammers aren’t usually interested in intimidating a person into making a payment over the phone like fake IRS or Social Security Administration (SSA) agents. Instead, they’d rather obtain your personal identifying information and/or the information of your family member(s) so they can apply for you but collect the money themselves.
How to Protect Yourself from COVID-19 Funeral Funding Scams
If you are called by someone claiming to be from FEMA offering to help you apply for funeral assistance, do not reveal any personal or financial information about yourself to the caller. Do not offer or confirm your name, date of birth, address, social security number, or the names of any family members.
This is information a scammer can use to apply for funeral benefits using your identity. If the fraudster is successful and you later apply, you may be denied on the basis that it’s a duplicate application. It may be difficult to prove that you weren’t the one who was awarded funding in your name and you may not be able to obtain the benefits you need to cover a loved one’s funeral costs.
When to Bring a Consumer Protection Attorney on Board
If you’ve been contacted by someone you believe may be a scammer after a loved one has died of COVID-19, you can report the call to the COVID-19 Funeral Assistance Helpline by dialing 844-684-6333. Alternatively, or in addition to, you can also file a report with the National Center for Fraud Hotline by calling 866-720-5721.
If you’ve been the victim of a funeral assistance scam and were not able to collect benefits because someone else has done so on your behalf without your knowledge or consent, an experienced consumer protection lawyer can help. Beyond reporting scammers to the appropriate government authorities, an attorney can assist you in filing any legal actions that may potentially help you recover damages.
Call Mazow | McCullough, PC Today
At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we take consumer protection seriously. We can not only help protect you from unscrupulous scammers, but we can also assist you in recovering any damages that resulted from being the victim of consumer rights violations, such as false advertising, defective products, unfair debt collection, and more.
Contact us today to learn more about how to identify and avoid scams and how to pursue legal action after falling victim to a scam that cost you thousands of dollars. Call now at (974) 744-8000 or toll free at (855) 693-9084.