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Hoax posts offer US federal aid for contaminated water

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been known to provide assistance to people whose wells required decontamination after flooding, but Facebook posts offering cash to households with tainted water are false -- they link to a hoax website with a picture of an ape.

"If your address falls in the list if contaminated water you qualify for FEMA. Hurry & fill out the application for FEMA assistance so you can get that $1000 check next week!!!" says a March 21, 2023 Facebook post sharing a map of Rochester, New York.

The same offer has spread in multiple Facebook posts, accumulating hundreds of shares.

<span>Screenshot of a Facebook post taken March 26, 2024</span>
Screenshot of a Facebook post taken March 26, 2024

But rather than linking to a government aid application, the posts redirect to a photo of a gorilla making an offensive gesture.

<span>Screenshot taken March 26, 2024 of an image posted on Reddit</span>
Screenshot taken March 26, 2024 of an image posted on Reddit

While some of the posts were shared in jest, comments indicate several users thought the offer was valid.

"The rumor that people can fill out an application for assistance and receive (a) $1,000 check next week is a false claim," a FEMA spokesperson told AFP in a March 26 email.

If flood waters contaminate a well, FEMA advises residents to contact their local health department to obtain proof and then submit it to the federal agency for potential financial assistance (archived here).

For addresses served by public systems, water is tested and results are reported to federal, state or tribal agencies to ensure it meets standards. Many systems also provide customers with an annual consumer confidence report on water quality.

FEMA warns disaster survivors to be cautious of scams and rumors. The agency encourages reporting all potential fraud to its Disaster Fraud Hotline.

March 26, 2024 This article was updated to add comment from FEMA.