Fake Internet ads designed to dupe Seattle’s would-be Section 8 applicants
People who are tricked by the fake ads could be vulnerable to spam, computer viruses and unwelcome mailers. Worse than that, said SHA spokesperson Michelle Ackermann, they might miss out on subsidized housing entirely
People who want to get on Seattle Housing Authority’s waiting list for Section 8 housing vouchers have about a one in 10 chance of making the list. Section 8 allows people making less than 30 percent of the area’s median income to use a federal subsidy to rent in any neighborhood.
But those who are duped by fake websites that appeared Feb. 4 on Google, Bing and Yahoo may have no chance at all.
SHA opened registration for the Section 8 lottery Feb. 4. The same day, a number of fake websites promising to guide people through the application process have appeared on web searches for Seattle Housing Authority.
A Google search for “seattle housing authority” brought up three or four of these links above or to the side of the regular search results. In small, gray print, they are identified as ads.
The ads have disappeared from Google searches Feb. 11, but remain on Bing and Yahoo.
A few of the bogus sites, including housingvoucher.org, look deceptively user-friendly and professional. It takes about five minutes for applicants to hand over email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers and personal information. After clicking through a few side offers for grants, Social Security benefits, credit checks and personal loans, the website says “Congratulations” and directs applicants to check their email accounts for more information.
The problem is, they haven’t actually applied at all.
The only way to ensure a place in the lottery for Section 8 Housing is to apply at seattlehousing.org.
Although housingvoucher.org does not actually offer housing, the process flashes a few application tips and warnings for applicants to act quickly because housing in “safe neighborhoods” disappears quickly.
People who are tricked by the fake ads could be vulnerable to spam, computer viruses and unwelcome mailers. Worse than that, said SHA spokesperson Michelle Ackermann, they might miss out on subsidized housing entirely.
“They’re not even in the running for a chance to get a voucher,” she said.
SHA has filed complaints with Google and other search engines and asked that the fake websites be taken down.
They also turned to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) for help.
SHA is encouraging people to file complaints with the IC3 at ic3.gov. If enough people complain, Ackermann said, the agency could take action.
Section 8 applicants aren’t the only ones to get duped by Internet ads. There are a number of fake websites that claim to be web portals for HUD and the Federal Housing Housing Administration.
Leland Jones, public affairs officer for the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) regional office in Seattle, said the agency and its would-be clients are often the targets of such scams.
Tricksters have also tried to dupe food stamp recipients. In Florida in 2011, fake sites appeared online offering help with food stamps, and, like those targeting SHA clients, collected personal information but offered no help.
In Seattle, so far 15,000 people have filled out applications for the lottery to get on a waiting list of 2,000. There’s no way of knowing how many have been led astray by the ads. Registration will be open until Feb. 22.
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