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Pandemic funeral scam targets survivors

Just to show how completely wretched scammers can be, the latest COVID-related fraud features government imposters trying to rip off the grieving survivors of pandemic victims.

They are doing it by playing off a legitimate relief program that helps qualified survivors pay the funeral expenses of loved ones lost to the coronavirus.

That program, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, began April 12 and pays up to $9,000 in funeral and burial expenses incurred after Jan. 20, 2020.

The process begins when applicants contact the agency (at 844-684-6333) — and not the other way around.

Even before the program officially started, FEMA said it had received complaints about scammers contacting people and asking if they needed help registering for assistance. There will be no such contact from FEMA — whether by phone call, text or email — until you have called the agency first or applied for assistance.

“Anyone who contacts you out of the blue and claims to be a federal employee or from FEMA is a scammer,” says a government alert.

Also:

– The legitimate program does not require applicants to pay a fee to get the financial assistance.

– You won’t be asked for your bank account, credit card or Social Security number.

– Do not give personal or financial information belonging to you or the victim to anyone who contacts you out of the blue.

***

For those planning to venture forth and travel this summer, beware of con artists who are trying to rip people off by taking advantage of skyrocketing rental car costs.

The higher costs, caused by a rental car shortage, have prompted reports of con artists pretending they’re rental car company representatives who can offer a special deal, according to the Better Business Bureau.

“… It’s really a way to trick you into paying hundreds of dollars for a car that doesn’t exist,” the BBB says.

It works this way: Customers doing an online search come across targeted ads, which link to multiple websites in which “car rental” is part of the address, according to Auto Rental News.

The usual red flag applies: Watch for very bad grammar and odd wording.

For example, verbatim: “Traveling is a new experience that can transport you out of your routine to create memories withyour (sic) loved ones. So lazy-head get up from your bed, book a car and travel across.” And, common to so many scams, prepaid cash or gift cards come into the picture. When a customer falls into the trap of clicking on a telephone number in the ad, they get an “agent” who tells them they are in luck because they are eligible for a big discount if they use a pre-paid card.

The customer buys the card and gives the number to the fake agent. What they get in return is a bogus rental confirmation number and no car.

Here’s what to do, according to the BBB:

– Never make payments with prepaid debit or gift cards. This is the preferred method for scammers, because those who are duped will not be able to get their money back. Legitimate companies almost always take credit cards.

– Use contact information listed on the company’s website.

– Beware of sponsored links.

– If you’re in doubt about a promotional deal, verify with the company by using a customer service number from the official website.

Contact Ellen Marks at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the NM Consumer Protection Division at 1-888-255-9210 or at www.nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx.



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