Scam websites target low-income Seattle renters
SEATTLE - Fake websites cropping up on Google could cost dozens of low-income residents their shot at receiving housing assistance and put their personal information at risk, according to the Seattle Housing Authority.
"They are preying on people who need help, telling them they have to pay for things when they actually don't," said Michelle Ackerman, spokesperson for Seattle Housing Authority (SHA).
On Tuesday, SHA launched its Section 8 Waitlist Lottery, a federally funded voucher program that helps people making 30 percent or less of the area median income pay for housing.
"For a family of four, they are making $26,000 a year," Ackerman said. "These are people who really have trouble paying their rent and need assistance."
A day after SHA launched its online lottery registration several people called the agency questioning the legitimacy of sites such as housing-voucher.com and housingvoucher.org. Ackerman said both of these sites showed up in Google searches for Section 8 housing vouchers above SHA's link, and she says there could be more.
"We don't know how many people are going to these websites listed above ours and registering, thinking they are getting help but they really aren't," she said.
The fake sites ask an applicant for financial and personal information, instructing those trying to register for the housing lottery they need to pay for a credit report before they can apply, which is not true, according to SHA.
"Then they come back and solicit these people for high-interest loans," Ackerman said.
According to SHA, it has reached out to Google and a number of federal agencies trying to see about getting these fake websites removed. Ackerman also said they have bought ad space on Google hoping SHA's link will be at the top of the list when a person searches for housing assistance.
As of Wednesday, nearly 10,800 people had registered for the housing lottery with SHA. This is the first time since 2008 Seattle's affordable housing waiting list has reopened, and SHA expects to see the number of those who apply continue to grow.
Registration for the lottery closes by 5 p.m. Feb. 22.
Anyone who is worried they may have applied for the lottery program using one of the fake sites, can call the Seattle Housing Authority at 206-239-1674 and check to make sure they properly registered.