The Better Business Bureau recently discovered an online scam targeting buyers searching for affordable housing, sometimes called Section 8 housing. With this particular scam, scammers have created fake websites that look like registration sites for Section 8 waiting-list lotteries.
This scam leads potential home- buyers to fake websites created by con artists in an attempt to collect fees and personal information from unsuspecting victims. The sites appear legitimate, with an Equal Housing Opportunity logo and a way to sign up for a voucher wait list. The BBB warns consumers not to sign up for the wait list, enter in personal information or pay a registration fee, if the site asks for one. The fee goes straight to the scammers’ bank accounts, and the online form gives them access to your identity.
In a similar version of this scam, fake websites list Section 8 properties available for rent if you pay the first month via wire transfer or a prepaid card. According to the Federal Trade Commission, people have lost money and personal information to scammers -- but they’ve also lost the chance to be in the actual lottery. Most people don’t realize they’ve been scammed until after the waiting list is closed.
To avoid this Section 8 scam, BBB offers the following tips:
Contact your local housing authority. To register for the Section 8 waiting list lottery, you need to go through your local housing authority. You’ll find its email and phone number with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or your local phone book.
Housing authorities don’t charge fees. HUD’s Section 8 program gives funding to local government housing authorities, and it then issues Housing Choice Vouchers to help people find housing in privately owned rental units. On the real Section 8 waiting list, there is no fee to sign up or register.
Don’t wire money or use a prepaid debit card. Scammers often pressure people into wiring money or putting cash on a prepaid debit card. They use this payment method because it’s like sending cash, and once it’s gone it’s nearly impossible to trace it or get it back. A housing authority will never ask you to wire money or pay with a prepaid card.
Shop smart online. Just because something appears high in search engine results does not necessarily mean it’s legitimate. Be sure to double-check the website or type it in directly. Treat your Social Security and credit card numbers like cash and don’t give them out on a website you find through a search.
Consumers should always be on the lookout for similar scams that take advantage of people looking for help through other government programs. To find out more about other scams or to file a complaint, visit your BBB at bbb.org/central-georgia.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River area. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at 478-742-7999, www.bbb.org or by emailing email@example.com.