While looking for available affordable housing units, it is important to be aware of two similar housing scams that prey on renters who are looking to move into a unit as soon as possible. Both schemes offer immediate housing options, but require payment up front. And once the payment is made, the contact offering assistance disappears. Since the housing option never actually existed, the renter must continue looking, and now has even less money to pay for future rent or a deposit.
These two instances are known as deposit payment and voucher purchase scams. As we have done so in our previous blog posts about housing scams, we will go over how each scam operates, and how to avoid them.
Deposit Payment Scams
As the more common of the two scams being discussed, deposit payment scams claim that a unit is available to rent, but a deposit payment is required before visiting the property, or getting more information.
The emails above and below are examples of real emails that have been sent to prospective renters. In the above scenario, the “landlord” uses the excuse that there are currently tenants occupying the unit, and showing the unit would be an invasion of their privacy. However, the scammer is willing to accept a deposit to reserve the unit, and promises to refund the money if they choose not to move in after visiting the property.
In this example, the scammer warns that there are many others who are interested in the unit, but if a deposit is sent right away, they can skip everyone in line and reserve the place for themselves. Other scams like this may say that they are out of town, instead of claiming that there is a line ahead of them.
This scammer says that they had to suddenly move for work, and their “agent” currently has the keys. Once the deposit is made, the keys will be sent by mail.
In all of these schemes, once the “deposit” has been received, the scammer ceases contact with the interested renter. Usually, the address of the supposed unit either doesn’t exist, or is not the address of a home or apartment community that is actually available for rent. Even if the address is of a home or apartment, if you are not allowed to look inside the unit until making a payment, it is likely a scam.
These false available units are often advertised on Craigslist and other classified ad websites. Any legitimate landlords would allow interested tenants to see the unit and get more information at first contact. Requiring a deposit before even seeing the rental unit, or asking for payment via PayPal or Bitcoin should be an immediate red flag.
Voucher Purchase Scams
Just say no to anyone selling a Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher. This scam promises that anyone who pays a fee can skip that area’s Section 8 HCV waiting list, and immediately receive a voucher without having to wait months or years.
Just like the deposit payment scam, once the fee has been paid, the person offering the voucher disappears, and no voucher exists.
This scam could appear anywhere, even in an email or social media message.
The above image is a real message that one of our Facebook users found in their private messages inbox. The scammer offers a flat fee of $100 per bedroom for a voucher.
Another person one time even went so far to steal our logo in an attempt to scam Facebook users. Even if the contact is supposedly from a legitimate housing organization, if they ask for payment up front, it is likely a scam.
It is unlawful to buy or sell housing vouchers. And, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) does not allow vouchers to be transferred from one person to another, except if very rare situations. The only way to legitimately receive a Section 8 voucher is to apply to an open waiting list, wait your turn, and go through the approval process.
On a side note, while it’s technically not a scam, there have been instances in the past where a housing official or voucher holder has sold real Section 8 vouchers. As stated beforehand, it is a crime to sell housing vouchers, and both parties involved with the sale are at risk of criminal punishment.
These scams are especially harmful to persons to low income persons since the deposit they might hand over to a scammer may be all the money they have.
As the old saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. As you search for housing, keep a thought in the back of your head that if a person asks for payment up front, they are likely a scammer.