With the increasing accessibility of information in this digital age, it is unfortunate that some take advantage of the web to deceive people. From typical email spams, scammers have now proliferated in the real estate market. As consumers, we are called for vigilance.
Fox 21 News report that scammers are targeting low-income families who are seeking affordable housing, especially those who use Section 8. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Section 8 is the federal government’s housing choice voucher program aimed at assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Fraudsters prey on these people who seek government-subsidized housing by setting up fake websites and help lines to obtain personal information and money.
Officials said that the website looks like a typical sign up page for a voucher and wait list, but it will eventually ask for more information that will cost you a lot of money down the path. Jeff Markle, Director of Marketing and Events for the Better Business Bureau, says, “The way it works is if somebody is interested in low income housing, they can go online or talk to the local housing authority and they request a voucher to be put on a waiting list.” This is where the scammers can take advantage of and deceive people because they have created authentic-looking websites.
Some websites ask for personal information including social security number, and they request application fee and first month’s rent, “saying low income housing is available if they wire them the money for the first month,” Markle said. These are all major red flags for a scam.
So how do we determine the real ones from the fake? Markle described that the legitimate website will not ask for payment, social security, or any sensitive information.
In another aspect of the real estate world, Freddie Mac issues a list of “red flags” for troubled borrowers seeking help with their mortgage to be aware of foreclosure relief scams. He warns that fraudsters exploit the trust within an “affinity group,” which is a group defined by a common heritage, language, ethnicity, workplace, or circle of friends to scam. The following steps are essential to remember in order to avoid fraud:
- Call your mortgage servicer, as only your servicer can modify your mortgage or finalize a plan to avoid foreclosure
- For reliable advice before you call your servicer, call 1-888-995-HOPE or seek free assistance from a HUD-approved counselor
- Doubt anyone who promises to stop a foreclosure for an upfront fee or offers
- Doubt anyone who promises to pay your mortgage and rent your house back to you if you give them title to your home
- Do not sign documents that transfer title to your home to anyone. Note that genuine mortgage workouts do not require you to transfer title
- Do not sign documents with errors or blank spaces
- Do not sign documents you do not understand or are not sure about
- Contact Freddie Mac to report suspected fraud at (800) 4FRAUD8 or at firstname.lastname@example.org
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Be wary of the websites and the people you do business with, and do not forget these guidelines. It will save you more time, effort, and money avoiding a scam, rather than finding remedies to it.