Police: Scammers posing as FEMA agents to take advantage of COVID-19 victims

Crime Tracker

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Scammers around the world wake up every day thinking of ways to steal your money.

Metro police say the latest scam is perhaps one of the most disgusting.

Police tell News 2 scam artists are preying on families who have lost someone to COVID-19.

They go through obituaries and social media sites, then call grieving victims pretending to be agents with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offering distraught family members up to $9,000 in federally funded funeral assistance money.

Metro police Lt. Michael Warren says so far there has not been a report lodged in Nashville, but says it is only a matter of time and the agency is putting a warning out to citizens now to be on guard.

“They are preying on victims who are already suffering from the loss of a loved one, and now when they finally have some financial relief in relation to it and then they are going to be victimized again,” Lt. Warren said.

Warren says under a new FEMA program recently unveiled, families who lost a loved one to COVID-19 after July 20th, 2020 may be eligible for up to $9,000 in funeral expenses. Those expenses could cover things like cremation, interment, transportation, caskets, urns headstones, and clergy or officiant services.

While this could be a wonderful and welcome gift for grieving families, Warren says it’s also a huge attraction for scammers who will do anything to put your $9,000 in their pockets.

“The problem with this is the bad guys have also figured out that the $9,000 dollars is available, and they are combing through obituaries and going through information and contacting you. They are pretending to be FEMA, acting like they are lending a helping hand to help you get that $9,000 to recoup some of those funeral costs, and all they are doing is stealing people’s money,” Lt Warren said.

Because the potential for fraud is so great, the FEMA website is already alerting citizens to be careful.

It reads: “Fraud Alert: We have received reports of scammers reaching out to people offering to register them for funeral assistance. FEMA has not sent any such notifications and we do not contact people before they register for assistance.

Warren is more blunt. FEMA is not going to call you. You have to call FEMA. If you receive a call, it is not FEMA, he says.

Lt. Warren says the scammer might try an approach on the phone that sounds something like this:

“‘We understand your Aunt Judy has passed away. I’m with FEMA. I’m agent so and so. Here’s my number,’ and they will say, ‘Can we assist you getting this $9,000 reimbursement?’ They know you are in mourning and in a bad place and now they are offering you assistance. They will ask for your loved one’s full name and social security number and date of birth. What they are doing is phishing you for info so they can turn around and apply for that same money,” Lt. Warren said.

Warren says once the scam artists get the information on who passed away, they might also use that financial data to open up new bank accounts, apply for loans or any number of illegal activities.

“To catch COVID is one thing. To lose a loved one to COVID is so much more severe. And to prey on those people, that is your opportunity, that you want to take advantage to steal some money. It’s reprehensible and it is disgusting,” he said.

To be eligible for the burial assistance, which includes cremation and other expenses, go to the FEMA website.

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