Stimulus Bill Covers Funeral Cost Reimbursement, but Criminals Are Going After That Money

by Maurie Backman | Updated July 25, 2021 - First published on April 19, 2021

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A family of three visiting a gravestone in a cemetery.

Image source: Getty Images

Crooks are targeting families that are eligible for funeral cost grants. Talk about despicable.

Millions of Americans have struggled with financial losses over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. As devastating as that may be, it pales in comparison to the emotional losses so many people have suffered. The pandemic has taken the lives of over 500,000 Americans, leaving their families to not only mourn the passing of loved ones, but also bear the expense of funeral costs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently launched a program that reimburses some of the funeral costs for those who died of COVID-19. Families can apply for grants of up to $9,000. But scammers are already going after that money, causing even more heartache for those who are already vulnerable.

Beware of FEMA scams

Financial scams haven't exactly taken a backseat during the pandemic. But targeting those who have lost loved ones reads like an all-new low. Still, it's happening, and potential victims need to stay vigilant.

Scammers pretending to be government agents or FEMA representatives are calling mourning families and offering to help them apply for funeral assistance. They then ask victims to share sensitive financial information, like Social Security numbers, bank account credentials, and other details that can be used for identity theft.

So how can families protect themselves? Namely, by hanging up if a so-called government agent calls with an offer to help.

FEMA has made it clear that it will not reach out to people individually if they haven't yet registered for funeral aid. As such, if you get a call out of the blue, you should assume it's a criminal. Similarly, FEMA will not text people or send them emails telling them to apply for a funeral grant. Any communication of that nature should be regarded as suspicious -- and promptly ignored.

FEMA won't ask for an application fee

Furthermore, some criminals are asking victims to pay a small "application fee" or deposit in order to get the aid they're after. FEMA does not require applicants to pay anything to apply for a funeral grant.

Applicants will, however, need to be prepared to share details of the costs they incurred in the course of burying loved ones. They'll also need their loved ones' death certificates to prove COVID-19 was the cause of death. Eligible expenses include burial plots, cremation services, caskets, clergy fees, and headstones. There are no income limits to apply for funeral aid, either.

Since the program's launch, there's been a high volume of calls to FEMA's application line, which isn't surprising. Those who have trouble getting through initially may want to sit tight for a few days and then try again. FEMA says there's currently no deadline to apply for aid, but it's only taking applications via its hotline. Those who are eligible can call 844-684-6333 to request a grant. That money can't provide emotional relief, but it can at least buy those in mourning a degree of financial relief during a very difficult time.

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