The COVID-19 pandemic has given rise to a dizzying number of new phishing scams. As soon as executive actions and federal legislation roll authorize relief, criminals get to work crafting phone scripts, emails, and websites designed to trick Americans out of their personally identifiable information and money. Predictably, the Federal Trade Commission has issued a new COVID-related scam alert, and this one is particularly egregious.
Who are identity thieves targeting now?
It’s no secret that the coronavirus has severely impacted small businesses. Shutdowns and occupancy restrictions have been devastating for restaurants and other parts of the service industry. While much of the conversation has understandably focused on jobs—bills pile up quickly when you’re out of work—more than 560,000 Americans have been trying to figure out how to pay for funeral expenses.
To help families devastated by those losses, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has been greenlighting a government relief program that covers some of those costs. According to the FTC, this program “will pay up to $9,000 for funeral expenses that people have paid since January 20, 2020 for loved ones who died of COVID-19.” To apply for those funeral-relief benefits, the agency says survivors need to call a toll-free number that offers multi-lingual services: 844.684.6333.
Identity thieves have, of course, taken note.
How are identity thieves trying to scam Americans who lost loved ones to COVID-19?
Identity thieves are impersonating FEMA officials in unsolicited emails, text messages, and phone calls to trick people into providing their information or money as part of the relief registration process. To protect people from this scam, they put together the following checklist:
- FEMA will not contact you until you have called FEMA or have applied for assistance. Anyone who contacts you out of the blue and claims to be a federal employee or from FEMA is a scammer.
- The government won’t ask you to pay anything to get this financial help. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- The government won’t call, text, email, or contact you on social media and ask for your Social Security, bank account, or credit card number. Anyone who does is a scammer.
- Don’t give your own or your deceased loved one’s personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you out of the blue. Anyone who does that and asks for that information is a scammer.
If any of your clients lost a loved one to COVID-19, pass along information about the FEMA program and this phishing scam.
Anyone who encounters the scam should report it to FEMA and the FTC:
- National Center for Fraud Hotline: 866.720.5721
- FTC website: ftc.gov
Source: “Scammers target loved ones of COVID-19 victims,” FTC.gov