According to a 2018 poll conducted by NerdWallet, an organization that aims to help people with their finances, 75% of Americans view buying a home as one of their top priorities.
With a majority of people looking for a place to set down roots, there are others looking to take advantage of them through a variety of housing or rental scams.
Apartmentlist.com states 43.1% of renters have run across a fraudulent listing and 5.2 million renters have lost money from rental fraud. Younger renters, ages 18-29, were more susceptible to fall victim to renter or housing scams. Close to 9.1% of younger renters lost money due to scams compared to 6.4% of all renters.
Madison County Sheriff Scott Mellinger said he has no reports of housing or rental scams in Madison County outside of incorporated areas.
Law enforcement typically doesn’t get involved in such cases unless there is a criminal statute that applies, he said.
“Law enforcement’s role would be to document all the information including suspect descriptions, emails, texts, phone calls, vehicles,” Mellinger said. “Some of these are actually civil matters needing addressed by an attorney or small claims court, but if anything criminal occurs we attempt to put a case together.”
Mellinger said he would recommend the buyer/renter get references from the seller, find out additional locations the seller claims and try to talk with their current tenants.
According to the Indiana Housing Agency, there are several scams to look out for when looking for a new place to rent or buy.
The agency says many scammers prey on individuals looking for Section 8 Housing or other affordable housing programs. The four scams to look out for involve application fees, data collections, deposit payments and voucher purchases.
With application fee scams, a website requires applicants to pay a fee to receive a voucher or public housing programs. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development prohibits fees for such vouchers and programs.
Deposit scams and voucher scams operate in the same way where a payment is required up front before services are given or properties are shown.
Deposit scams are usually found on Craigslist or other classifieds websites. Typically the address for a unit either doesn’t exist or is not the address for a home or apartment. IHA reminds prospective renters and buyers that legitimate landlords will let you view a unit or ask for more information first.
Voucher scams are similar to deposit scams but in this case scammers claim that upon payment, interested parties will be moved to the top of an affordable housing waiting list or bypass it completely. Once money has been taken, the scammer will disappear. IHA says the only way to receive a voucher for affordable housing is to apply to a waiting list and go through the approval process.
Data collection scams appear in the form of an affordable online application that claims to be affiliated with a housing authority. It will ask you to fill out a form with your personal information and then sell it to marketing agencies. These are easy to identify, according to the IHA, because they will ask for information not found on a legitimate application. Questions such as: Do you have diabetes? or Would you like your free credit score?
Mellinger said that taking a witness with you when meeting a new seller is a good idea. Talking with neighbors of the potential residence to ask if they know the seller/owner to make sure they’re the right person is a smart plan as well, he said.
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