Scammers prey on people seeking affordable housing

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Looking for affordable housing, sometimes called "Section 8?" Be careful of the websites you're clicking on. Recently con artists have created fake websites that offer a way to sign up for a voucher wait list, but they really collect fees and personal information from victims with no pay off.

Here's how they pull it off:

You're looking online for affordable housing and click on one of the top search results, which leads you to a website. The site looks real and even has an Equal Housing Opportunity logo.

You start to sign up for the wait list, but the website asks for a registration fee and important personal information like your Social Security number. Don't enter it! The fee goes straight to the scammers' bank accounts, and con artists can use your SSN to commit identity theft

In another version of this scam, the fake websites list Section 8 properties that claim to be available now. And you can rent one... if you pay the first month's rent via wire transfer or a prepaid card. These ads are fake, and if you pay, well, you've just lost your money.

Here's how you can avoid an affordable housing scam:

  • Contact your local housing authority. To register for a housing choice voucher program, you need to go through them. You’ll find their email and phone number on the Housing and Urban Development website.
  • Housing authorities do not charge fees. They also won’t reach out to you by phone or email to suggest that you join a waiting list.
  • 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. Why? It’s like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Government agencies do not typically ask for money using these forms of payment, so consider that a “red flag.”
  • Be a skeptical search engine user: 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.
  • Have you seen this kind of scam? File a complaint with the FTC and HUD.