Just when you think criminals can’t sink any lower, the Better Business Bureau is warning about a scam targeting people who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.
The BBB says fraudsters are taking advantage of a newer program under the American Rescue Plan. It’s a FEMA-run program that reimburses up to $9,000 in funeral expenses for people who’ve died from COVID-19.
“And what they are trying to do is gather personal information from you or that person to steal your identity,” said BBB Spokesman Bryan Oglesby.
Oglesby says the BBB is seeing a growing number of cases where people already grieving the loss of a loved one are being victimized again.
Scammers are posing as FEMA agents, asking for money up front to process their application. Some are demanding banking and other private info including social security numbers.
“They can open up credit cards, they can take out mortgages,” warned Oglesby.
Jacque Woodward thinks it happened to her.
Woodward lost her husband Gary to COVID-19 in November, then recently got a call telling her someone was trying to get a copy of the death certificate to apply for FEMA funds.
“We try to do everything we can to remember him in so many ways and move forward. And then you have something like this. It’s just terrible,” said Woodward.
The BBB says FEMA would never initiate contact by phone, much less ask for cash upfront or personal information that could lead to ID theft.
They suggest if you ever have questions or suspicions about the legitimacy of someone reaching out to you, hang up and call that agency back at the number listed on their official website. That way, you’re the one initiating the phone call.
There’s no shortage of ways for swindlers to find a target, says Oglesby.
The scam could start with a robocall asking if you’ve lost a family member to COVID. Thieves also check the obituaries, death announcements and even social media.
“Scammers can see things happening in your life,” said Oglesby. “They can use that as a tool to present their scam to you.”
The BBB is asking anyone who thinks they’ve been contacted to report it by letting them, FEMA and local law enforcement know about it.
A despicable crime, they say, targeting those who’ve already lost so much.
“It’s appalling,” said Woodward. “That people would want to do such a terrible thing to a family that’s grieving.”
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