Needy families tricked into paying to go on Section 8 vouchers list: Internet Scambusters #671
Families trying to obtain rent subsidies under the government's Section 8 voucher scheme are being hoodwinked into paying to go on a waiting list.
Scammers are even using fake Section 8 sites to list non-existent rental homes and then charging their victims two months' rent, as we explain in this week's issue.
We'll also tell you how to find out if your car is at risk of being stolen.
Now, here we go...
Scammers Fake Section 8 Affordable Housing Sites
Renters seeking affordable homes are being targeted by scammers pretending to offer access to a government program called Section 8.
The program, operated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides assistance to extremely low-income renters by issuing "housing choice vouchers" via local government housing authorities and other government agencies.
Section 8 also provides other types of financial assistance but it's the voucher program and therefore, by definition, those who can least afford to be scammed, that are being specifically targeted.
The vouchers help people pay for privately owned rental units that might otherwise be well outside of their budget.
So it's easy to see why would-be renters are anxious to get hold of them.
The trouble is that the vouchers are not readily available. Their availability depends on annual allocations made by HUD to each state.
So renters have to put their names on a state-by-state waiting list and wait for their application to be reviewed.
Because there usually isn't enough money to go round, some agencies use a lottery system to allocate vouchers.
It can take anything from a few days to years for applicants to get theirs, and information on how to get on the wait list is not always immediately obvious.
It's a golden opportunity for heartless scammers to intervene.
Two Main Scams
There are two main scams.
In the first one, crooks have set up bogus sites that appear to belong to or be associated with HUD.
These scam sites often use the Section 8 name prominently and may even use official logos, notably one for Equal Housing Opportunity.
These bogus sites often show up at or near the top of online searches for Section 8 waiting list information, but victims who visit them are in for a costly surprise.
Alternatively, the crooks may send out spam emails promoting the sites and availability of vouchers to lure victims to them.
Most of these fake sites charge a fee to get on the supposed waiting list and they usually ask for confidential information like Social Security numbers and bank account details.
It's also possible some may charge an additional amount by implying they can increase applicants' chances of getting a voucher sooner rather than later.
As usual, scammers ask for payments to be made either via money-wires or with a reloadable debit card.
All of this means victims are out of pocket for the cost of the fee(s), at risk of identity theft (their info is usually sold on to other underworld crooks) and, of course, out of luck for getting a Section 8 voucher since their name isn't really on any waiting list.
Most people don't realize they've been scammed until they try to find out what happened to their application after current waiting lists close.
In the second scam, some of the bogus sites pretend to have a list of houses available for rent under the Section 8 program.
Victims who inquire about renting these homes are asked to pay the first and last months' rent upfront. But of course, while the homes themselves might exist and even be available for rent, the money paid out by victims just goes straight into the crooks' pockets.
5 Things to Know
If you or someone you know are hoping to get a Section 8 voucher, here are 5 things you need to know:
- There is no charge to get your name on a waiting list and there is no way that paying a fee will increase chances of getting a voucher.
- Housing authorities don't use money-wiring services or reloadable debit cards as sources of payment.
- Housing authorities don't send out emails, make phone calls or send text messages promoting their Section 8 programs.
- Individual housing agencies manage their own Section 8 programs and you should contact them direct to find out how to get on the waiting list. Use this interactive map to find your local agency.
- Don't provide confidential financial information on a website you find through a search.
If you, or someone you know, needs to know more about the real Section 8 program, use the contact details above or visit HUD.gov's information on the Section 8 Rental Certificate Program.
Alert of the week
How do you rate your chances of having your car stolen?
Well, it depends on what model auto you own, the year of manufacture, and where you live.
But overall, if you own a Honda Accord, you're most at risk according to a new study released by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
The Bureau has recently released its annual Hot Wheels list of the 25 most frequently stolen vehicles. Be sure to check it out.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!