The eviction moratorium was struck down by the Supreme Court, but some state and local governments are still issuing their own eviction policies. Unfortunately, in addition to the confusion and stress that renters may be experiencing, scammers are ready to take advantage of those who are impacted by making false promises to help get them out of a difficult situation. With millions in the United States behind on their rent, the moratorium’s end is a perfect hook.
How the scam works
BBB warns you to watch out for scammers offering loans, peddling credit repair services, or promoting government programs, among other things. These cons are a way to trick desperate people out of money they don’t have.
For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, BBB Scam Tracker has seen numerous reports of phony “pandemic relief” grants or government programs that allegedly provide funding to people impacted by the pandemic. Once you “qualify for the grant,” the scammer will ask you to pay a processing or delivery fee to receive your funds. Sadly, many people find out too late that the grant doesn’t exist, and money paid upfront was handed over to scammers.
Advance fee loans, debt relief and credit repair scams work in a similar way. They promise a loan – or to repair your credit – for an upfront fee. No matter how much you may need it, don’t be tempted by “guaranteed loans” or impossible services, such as removing late payments or a bankruptcy from your credit report.
This recent BBB Scam Tracker report describes a situation more people will likely encounter as the eviction moratorium nears:
“I’d been in a desperate financial situation for a few weeks now, so I had been looking for loans and being denied left and right,” the scam victim told BBB. The victim received a call from a loan provider, saying their loan application had finally been accepted. They said there was just one catch: before the company could release the money, the borrower had to increase their credit score. They also claimed they had a way to help. “The way they would do that is they would send money to my account and then all I would have to do is send it back and that would boost my score.”
Although it appeared that the money was transferred by the “company,” valid funds were never sent. Instead when the victim thought they were “sending back” the funds, they were really just transferring $1,000 of their hard earned money into the hands of scammers. Worse yet, this resulted in an overdraft on their bank account.
To protect yourself from this scam, the BBB recommends that you:
— Double check any government program before you sign up. If an organization is offering you a grant or relief funds, get to know them before you agree to anything. Take a close look at their website and read reviews. If you think you might be dealing with an impostor, find the official contact information and call the organization to make sure the offer is legitimate.
— Be wary of out-of-the-blue calls, emails or text message claiming to be from the government. In general, the government will not contact you using these methods, unless you granted permission.
— Think something seems suspicious? Reach out to the agency directly. If you doubt that a government representative is legitimate, hang up the phone or stop emailing. Then, report the suspicious calls or messages. Make sure the agency is real. Scammers often make up names of agencies and/or grants.
— Do not pay any money for a “free” government grant or program. It is not really free if there is a fee involved. A real government agency will not ask for an advanced processing fee. Instead, find out if the grant is legitimate by checking grants.gov.
— Advance fees are a concern. Not all businesses promising to help you repair bad credit are scams, but if you are asked to pay in advance, that’s a big red flag. In both the U.S. and Canada, credit repair and debt relief companies can only collect their fee after they perform the services promised.
— Avoid guarantees and unusual payment methods. Real lenders never guarantee a loan in advance. They will check your credit score and other documents before providing an interest rate and/or loan amount and will not ask you to pay an upfront fee. Fees are never paid via gift cards, CashApp, or prepaid debit card. Unusual payment methods and payments to an individual are a big tip off.
BBB offers additional information on bbb.org, including BBB’s tip on loans and credit repair services. You can also learn more about government impostor scams during COVID-19.
If you’ve spotted a scam (whether or not you’ve lost money), please consider reporting it at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Your report can help others in our community avoid falling victim to scams.
Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.