Scammers target COVID-19 victims' family members in funeral expense scheme

Here's what to watch for, where to report it, and how to get the real help.

Rae Hodge Former senior editor
Rae Hodge was a senior editor at CNET. She led CNET's coverage of privacy and cybersecurity tools from July 2019 to January 2023. As a data-driven investigative journalist on the software and services team, she reviewed VPNs, password managers, antivirus software, anti-surveillance methods and ethics in tech. Prior to joining CNET in 2019, Rae spent nearly a decade covering politics and protests for the AP, NPR, the BBC and other local and international outlets.
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Scammers are now preying on grieving families whose loved ones have died of COVID-19 by offering to pay for funeral expenses, the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday. The malicious actors are targeting survivors by pretending to obtain relief program funds on the survivors' behalf through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which currently offers up to $9,000 to reimburse funeral expenses paid since Jan. 20, 2020. 

The FTC is cautioning the public to fact-check any solicitation, and to apply for aid directly through FEMA's assistance portals detailed in the agency's Funeral Assistance FAQ.

"The program just began yesterday, but even before it started, FEMA said it had reports of scammers contacting people and 'offering' to register them for assistance," the FTC said in a release.

Survivors can also apply for FEMA assistance by contacting the agency directly through its toll-free number, 844-684-6333, which is also multilingual. 

The FTC advised watching for the following red flags that could indicate a scam: 

  • FEMA will contact you only if you've contacted the agency. Anyone who solicits you before you've reached out, the FTC said, is a scammer. 
  • If anyone asks you to pay to receive assistance from this program, it's a scam. 
  • Be careful with what information you give out. FEMA won't contact you through any channel to ask for your or your deceased loved one's Social Security, bank account or credit card information. 

The FTC is encouraging anyone who suspects they've been a target of a COVID-19 scam to report the incident to the FEMA Helpline at 800-621-3362, or to the National Center for Fraud Hotline at 866-720-5721. And to likewise notify the FTC via ReportFraud.ftc.gov.

The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.