The Section 8 housing program, operated by the U.S. federal government’s Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), provides support to particularly low-income households by issuing “housing choice vouchers” via local housing authorities and other agencies.
Individuals and Families trying to receive rent subsidies under the government’s Section 8 voucher scheme are being tricked into paying to go on a waiting list by scammers pretending to offer access to the federal housing subsidy program. Among other techniques, the scammers are even using fake Section 8 websites to list non-existent rental homes and then charging their victims two months’ rent.
As the Section 8 program’s beneficiaries are the people already living below the poverty line 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 housing units that might otherwise be well outside their affordability. This is the reason why would-be renters are anxious to get hold of these vouchers.
In principle, the vouchers are not readily available as the availability depends on annual allocation made by HUD to individual state. As a standard practice, the renters have registered on a state-by-state waiting list and wait for their application appraisal. Due to the limited funds available for a specific time, agencies in some states use a lottery system to distribute vouchers. The time required to obtain these vouchers can vary from a few days to years, with no obvious timeline available on how to get on the waitlist.
And this is where the opportunity lies for merciless scammers to intrude.
Common ways of Scammers
There could be following the main scams.
- The reprobates have established counterfeit sites that appear to be associated with HUD using Section 8 name prominently and official logos. These forged sites often show up on or near the top of online searches for Section 8 waiting list information, and this is where the victim entrapped.
- In other cases, these criminals may send out spam emails promoting the sites and availability of vouchers to tempt victims to them.
- Most of such sites charge a small fee to get on the imaginary waiting list along with queries about the confidential information like Social Security numbers and bank account details. Others may charge additional money by falsely claiming to help increase applicants’ chances of getting a voucher earlier. Fees are asked to be paid via money-wires or with a reloadable debit card.
- This simply results in the victim’s financial loss and risk of identity theft. This comes with the harsh truth that most of the people don’t realize they’ve been scammed until they try to find out what happened to their application after current waiting lists are closed.
- Additionally, these fake sites pretend to have a list of houses available for rent under the Section 8 program. Victims interested in renting these homes are asked to pay the first and last months’ rent upfront. In reality, the listed homes might exist and even be available for rent; the money paid out by target victim just goes straight into the crooks’ hands.
Those who are hoping to get a Section 8 voucher, here are things you need to know:
- As per federal laws, there is no charge to get your name on a waiting list and by no means paying a fee can increase chances of getting a voucher.
- Housing authorities do not use money-wiring services or reloadable debit cards as payment methods.
- The Housing authorities do not promote the Section 8 program by sending out emails, making phone calls or sending text messages.
- Individual housing agencies administer their own Section 8 programs and one should contact them directly to find out how to get on the waiting list. Applicants should try to find out official address and contact of their local agency.
- While searching online, phrases containing “section 8”, the first result will be an ad titled “Apply for Section 8 Online”. This is a scam!
- Scammers usually operate through social media or online classified sites. When someone offers to “transfer” their Section 8 voucher to you for a few hundred dollars, it’s a scam because Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers are non-transferable.
- In case of a “landlord” is asking you to wire a security deposit or reservation fee before you actually have seen the rental, it’s a potential rental deposit scam. The bogus landlord uses fake rentals in hot rental markets to persuade renters they require to reserve that deal by sending them money.
- The confidential financial information should not be shared on a website you find through a search.
- If you are applying for Section 8 housing subsidy, it’s free and there is NEVER a fee to apply. In fact, it is against HUD regulations (and the law) for a public housing authority to charge an application fee for Section 8. But the scammers have not stopped from creating fake application websites asking for fees for fake Section 8 applications.
- If you, or someone you know, need to know more about the real Section 8 program, use the contact details above or visit HUD.gov information on Section 8 Rental Certificate Program.
- Just because something appears high in search engine results does not necessarily mean it’s legitimate. Be sure to double check the URL or type it in directly if making a purchase or sharing personal information online.
If by any chance you have seen any kind of the above-mentioned scam, you should file a complaint with FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and HUD.
Better Business Bureau also offers help in case of such scamming incidents.
HUD has an Office of Inspector General (OIG), which is the law enforcement branch of the department. OIG is supposed to investigate fraud, waste, and abuse in the Section 8 program. You can visit, call, email, or fax to report fraud. The OIG may choose to let your local PHA investigate your report.