With billions of dollars in rental assistance flowing to states, a federal agency warned this week that scammers are using texts to deceive renters and prey on people in need. The bad actors are trying to obtain your personal information, steal your money or do both.
"The look and feel of this scam are very convincing,” said Bev Yang, who works for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), which issued the warning.
The CFPB's logo has been hijacked in these scams, as have the logos of other federal agencies and nonprofit groups, said Yang, a policy analyst in the CFPB's Office for Older Americans.
Join today and get instant access to discounts, programs, services, and the information you need to benefit every area of your life.
Feds not taking these applications
Important to know: The federal government is not processing applications for COVID-19-related emergency rental assistance and will not reach out to people for their personal information so they may qualify for such help.
To try for rental assistance, a consumer must apply through a state or local program. Eligibility is based on income and other criteria. You can find your local rental assistance program using the CFPB's rental assistance finder.
The bogus texts at issue use language “suggesting that they understand the challenges that low-income renters are facing and they want to help,” Yang said. One version of the scam requests that consumers upload photos of their driver's licenses, among other things.
According to Yang, it's unclear how many variations of the scam are now targeting renters. “Scammers may test different versions of the same scam simultaneously, and there's no limit to the number of scams that could be targeting renters during this vulnerable time,” she said.
That scammers have injected themselves into a pandemic-related relief program is not new. Other impostor scams have hit state agencies, including those distributing unemployment benefits, and the federal COVID-19 stimulus program that distributed economic-impact payments.
Just say no
Say no to anyone claiming to be from a government agency asking for cash, gift cards, wire transfer, cryptocurrency, or personal and financial information, whether they contact you by phone, text or email or by showing up in person, the CFPB warned in June. That guidance applies to the rental assistance program, too.
Do not share your Social Security, Medicare, driver's license, bank account or credit card numbers with impostors, the June warning said. Here's more on how to avoid COVID-19 government impostor scams.
For more on federal emergency rental assistance, here's a frequently-asked-questions guide from the Treasury Department last week.
CFPB officials urged people who encounter a scam of any sort to file a report with to the Federal Trade Commission, a consumer protection agency, at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.
Katherine Skiba covers scams and fraud for AARP. Previously she was a reporter with the Chicago Tribune, U.S. News & World Report, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She was a recipient of Harvard University's Nieman Fellowship and is the author of the book, Sister in the Band of Brothers: Embedded with the 101st Airborne in Iraq.