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Criminals are targeting a new federal program that pays up to $9,000 in funeral costs for a loved one who died of Covid-19, the Federal Trade Commission said Tuesday.
The Covid-19 Funeral Assistance program, overseen by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, opened to applicants on Monday. Individuals have had trouble getting through due to high volume, officials said.
Fraudsters are contacting people and impersonating government agents, offering to register them for assistance, according to the FTC.
“FEMA has not sent any such notifications and we do not contact people before they register for assistance,” according to a fraud alert on the FEMA’s website.
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About 563,000 people in the U.S. have died from Covid-19, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Criminals may ask for payment to access the financial help, according to the FTC.
They may also request sensitive personal or financial information like Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers of would-be victims or a deceased relative.
The government program is meant for individuals who incurred funeral costs for a loved one who died after Jan. 20, 2020 from Covid-19.
The program was funded by two prior rounds of federal Covid relief, a $900 billion measure in December and last month’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.
Eligible expenses include, among other things: caskets or urns, burial plots, headstones, officiant services, and cremation or internment costs. Individuals can get up to $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application per state.
There’s no income limit to apply for the funds. Documentation, such as a death certificate and receipts, is required.
The program has been plagued by technical issues due to initial high call volume, according to FEMA. Individuals must apply by phone.
“The call center has received thousands of calls this morning, which is causing some technical issues,” the agency said Monday.
“We ask that applicants be patient as we work to correct these issues and have all their important documents ready when they call,” it added.
There isn’t currently a deadline to apply.