Watch out for scammers. That’s Seattle Housing Authority’s warning to people who are going online this week to apply for the city’s Section 8 housing lottery. Agency officials caution that some misleading sites have been set up to trick people into submitting their personal information to the wrong place.
On Monday, Seattle Housing Authority opened up its Section 8 waitlist for the first time since 2008. In the first few days, more than 9,500 low-income households had already applied. They’re putting their names in the lottery for the city’s short supply of federally-subsidized housing. The city will randomly select 2,000 names.
However, as the applications rolled in this week, housing authority staff started getting calls from concerned applicants. Some asked, “Why do we need to pay for a credit report just to get in the lottery?” Housing Authority spokeswoman Michelle Ackermann said those calls led them to discover they were the target of some scam websites.
“They have a logo similar to ours,” Ackermann said. “They offer to walk the person through how to apply for Section 8 housing. They look fairly professional – they’re not a fly-by-night operation.”
Early Wednesday afternoon, a Google search for “Seattle Housing Authority” returned a results page with bogus websites at the top, such as housing-voucher.com and housingvoucher.org. They displayed as paid advertising. Later in the day, the ads only showed up on the side of the page.
The sites prompt people to pay for a credit report as part of the housing voucher application, and they also offer high interest loans. Ackermann is concerned these sites are ensnaring some of their applicants. She’s worried that people who’ve waited years for this shot at housing assistance may miss their chance.
“We don’t know how many people might have gone to one of these misleading websites and think that they have signed up with seattlehousing.org and are in the running for the lottery for this voucher, when in fact they haven’t.” Ackermann says people can call the Housing Authority to verify their application was received.
The Housing Authority has also contacted the state Attorney General’s Office and federal agencies to help get the sites removed. Officials with the Attorney General’s Office were unavailable for comment.
Five years ago, Seattle Housing Authority received about 12,000 applications for this Section 8 lottery, but they were all on paper. This is the first time the process is completely online.