Learn how to help stop this scammer from defrauding more housing assistance searchers
Last week, we covered the least harmful online Section 8 scammers, who target those looking for affordable housing assistance and collect your information to sell it to spammers. Their actions are immoral, but at least the worst possible result of falling for this scam is having your email inbox full of spam.
Yet, there are other scammers on the Internet who target something of yours more valuable than your information. The scam we will discuss this week aims to fool you into paying for information that is otherwise easily available at no cost.
For example, a website called Section8Programs.com makes it appear that you are about to fill out an application for Section 8 housing. However, this website is deceitful in more ways than one.
How to identify this scam
First of all, you are not applying to a Section 8 waiting list application by clicking the blue “Apply Now” link placed visibly on its home page. The webmaster even placed a deadline warning above the link that is programmed to display the current date, causing many uninformed users to fall victim for the scam because they think they must act immediately.
The website explains underneath the “Apply Now” link that what you are actually applying for is a “packet” that has information about affordable housing, which includes links to apply for a rental assistance program.
This scam operates by charging a $15 fee to receive this “packet,” which contains basic public information provided by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and other affordable housing organizations. Every piece of content provided in the “packet” can be accessed by anyone at no cost. The scammer makes you think they are helping by giving this information, but in reality, they are making you pay for content that can be read for free.
Your “packet” is a website that you can only access after paying the fee. We have displayed below exactly what information is provided:
Although there are regular contests on this website that award money to participants, we urge that you do not sign up for the purpose of entering these contests. First of all, in order to enter, you must initially pay the website’s fee. There is a small chance that you will actually be selected; and even if you do end up winning, the dollar amount given is a very small figure.
Who is this scammer?
For this specific website, we can put a face to this scam, and show you how far this individual goes to make you believe his website is legitimate.
The most apparent attempt to appear legitimate is by placing a Twitter feed in the middle of the home page, showing Tweets referencing the website. These Tweets are either people who have fallen for the scam, or those who won one of the website’s “grant” contests that gives a check intended to pay for rent.
At the bottom of the website is a link to the company’s Facebook page. The first red flag is that there are only 121 Facebook users who “Like” Section8programs.com at the time of this article’s writing. If it was a business that legitimately helped people, that number would likely be much greater than about 100 “Likes.” A recent post directs you to www.digitaljournal.com, making it appear that news sources are reporting on the website. This is not true, as Digital Journal allows anyone with an account to contribute content to its website. The “press release” linked by the Facebook page was not reported by any real news media.
That “press release” contains a link to the company that operates Section8programs.com, Datatron Web Hosting. Its website directly identifies the person who runs the website.
Datatron Web Hosting is an apparent website design, marketing and hosting company owned and operated by a man named Hiram Lewis, who is identified in the picture at the start of this article. Both Datatron Web Hosting’s website and Facebook page contain links promoting Section8programs.com, so there is no doubt that this is the person in charge of the scam.
And as if there wasn’t enough proof in the text, a video has been placed on the Datatron Web Hosting home page that features Lewis:
We have dug up a lot of useful information about this operation, and challenge our users to verify its legitimacy, or lack thereof.
Upon purchasing our own Section 8 packet from the website, our credit card receipt gave the company’s address as 2 Cityplace Dr. St. Louis, MO 63141. While that sounds like a phony address, it is actually a real location. The address is of an office building owned by a company called Regus, which rents out office space to businesses. With help from Google Maps, we can identify that this is the building you can see in the video posted above.
To contact the company, the phone number at the top of the Datatron Web Hosting home page is 314-827-8138. The receipt gave a different phone number, 314-601-5615. Both of these numbers have the same area code as the general phone number for the Regus office building. We have not called either number in an attempt to keep this exposé under wraps, but a user reported on scambook.com in 2013 that the second number simply leads you to a general online support message.
What can I do to help stop this scam?
There are a number of ways to report this operation, and if enough people bring this to the attention of the appropriate agencies, Hiram Lewis will not be scamming users much longer.
It is important to note that Section8programs.com is hosted by Yahoo domains; which is ironic, because Datatron Web Hosting is supposedly a professional website hosting service. Yahoo has specific guidelines of a business’ general practices, and if a business violates any of these guidelines, there is a way to report it to be taken off Yahoo’s servers.
While there is a gray area in regards to the legality of this scam, there is one guideline we can confirm that Section8program.com has violated:
“3. Provide accurate store information”
You must accurately describe your store and the items you are selling. You may not include any language in your product or store descriptions, including the name, which may mislead potential customers.
Hiram Lewis can argue all he wants that the fine print explains you’re purchasing a packet of Section 8 information, but the link on the top of the website to pay for this information says “Apply Now.” Paired with a notice that, “Applications are being accepted online until…” and the words, “Section 8 Housing Application” placed under the link, it is very clear that the intent of this website is to trick users into thinking they are applying to Section 8 housing.
Unfortunately, to report a Yahoo Small Business violation, you must be signed into a Yahoo account. If you do not have a Yahoo account, we know of another way to report this scam; so please skip this section and view the other process below. If you have a Yahoo account, please follow the following instructions to report this website:
- Click this link to report the website to Yahoo.
- Log into your Yahoo account.
- After logging in, you will be brought to a web page with several inquiries about the website. You are welcome to use our image below as a guideline of what to write.
- Click the blue “Submit” button on the bottom of the form.
If you do not have a Yahoo account, we have found another way to report this website. The receipt from our purchase also identified First Data as the company Lewis uses to process credit card information.
UPDATE (7/28/15): Some time after this article was published, First Data stopped providing the service of processing credit card information for Section8programs.com. PayPal now handles payments for the website. We can only assume that First Data dropped the company after reviewing complaints. Information will soon be posted about how to send complaints to PayPal.
Also, Mr. Lewis has changed the language on the payment page for his packet, further explaining what information you are actually getting. However, his home page still has the deceitful “Apply Now” link.
Companies who are in violation of First Data’s policies can be reported to its ethics hotline. The phone number to that hotline is 800-337-3366. Violation reports require specific details about the company, so we have provided the online report we made for you to use as a guideline:
We appreciate you taking the time to report this scam. Each violation report helps legitimize the claim; and bringing greater attention of this scam to the appropriate administrators will help remove this content from the Internet quicker.
Please stay tuned for our next scam article, which will provide information on how to report this and other scams to various helpful organizations that assist consumers, such as the Better Business Bureau.