Beware of COVID-19 Relief Scams
As many families face job or income losses due to COVID-19, they will turn to relief programs that could help them get through these tough times. The good news is that the CARES Act contains provisions to protect them for losing their homes right now, whether they are homeowners or renters.
However, the bad news is that there are scammers out there ready to take advantage of vulnerable homeowners and others seeking relief.
Unfortunately, there have always been con artists who prey on those who are struggling to make rent or mortgage payments, but now it’s even more amplified and thus increasing the risk for people to become susceptible to fraudulent promises.
How to Protect Yourself
You need to protect yourself from those who may want to steal your money, home or even sensitive personal information. It’s time to be cautious and be aware of some possible scams. You can find links to trusted resources and other helpful information about COVID-19 relief at the end of this article.
Seeking Relief — Who to Contact
It’s important to stick to direct channels of communication right now and reach out to those who can actually work with you to determine any relief options.
- If you are a homeowner, contact your loan servicer directly if you are seeking mortgage relief options such as forbearance or reduction of payments. Their contact information should be listed on your mortgage payment statement. This is the safest way to ensure you are talking to the correct people where you can work out a modification plan with them directly.
- If you’re a renter and seeking relief, contact your landlord or property manager. You can find out if your building has access to Fannie Mae’s Disaster Response Network or Freddie Mac Multifamily COVID-19 Relief Program. Your landlord may be participating in one of these programs, or perhaps another local program if their building mortgage is not backed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac.
Be Wary of Unsolicited Help
Now is the time you may be getting unsolicited offers of help and relief. Please be cautious with whom you are dealing with if they are not your mortgage servicer or landlord, or a government-backed program. Here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- Beware of those who pose as government officials. Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae and other government agencies will not contact you directly unsolicited, whether through a call, email or text.
- Beware of all unsolicited emails, calls or other official looking or sounding communication. Don’t respond to any communication that makes threats, uses scare tactics, demands money, or insists on immediate action. And also those that make promises that are too good to be true. Again, go through trusted communication channels.
- Don’t trust caller ID since it can be faked. Let calls go to voicemail and double check numbers before you return a call.
- Look for “red flags” in emails or links from official looking communications. Check for typos in the domain name or with phone numbers listed. Don’t click any links! Be suspicious of fake emails and websites that look legitimate or seem backed by the government and may purposely look patriotic and have U.S. flags to sway you.
- Seek out HUD-approved counselors. If you are seeking financial counseling, you can always go the HUD website for approved housing agencies that offer free counseling services or call 888-995-HOPE.
Be Smart About What You Do
Now’s the time to be cautious and smart about what you do, especially if you think you are getting financial relief. Here’s what you need to watch out for and why you need to think before you act:
- Don’t pay any upfront fees – cash, check or wire — for services. Legitimate relief programs cannot ask for upfront payments before a lender has offered relief. For homeowners, this requirement is illegal based on the MARS (Mortgage Assistance Relief Services) Rule.
- Don’t sign any paperwork without looking it over and understand it. Carefully read over any relief options and understand what it entails. Ask questions and seek assistance from family members or trusted counseling services.
- Never sign over your property title or deed to your home. Don’t fall for anything that requires them to purchase your home in order to help you. The CARES Act is making it possible for you to stay in your home and not lose it! Again, read over any paperwork carefully.
- Never provide any personal information or credit card information to unverified sources. Confirm who you are dealing with before you provide any personal information. Take their name and number and then validate with a trusted source. Again, go back to your direct channel of communication.
- Get any loan or rental modifications in writing and keep all documentation. If you do receive relief from your mortgage servicer, double check any revised mortgage payment statements for incorrect information. And for renters, keep any documentation if you have worked out a plan with your landlord.
- Always make mortgage payments to your loan servicer. Never send payments to anyone other than your legitimate mortgage servicer. Don’t trust anyone who says they will make payments for you through them.
- Don’t fall for over promises that seem too good to be true. Beware of companies that say they have a special relationship with the banks or their advertising promotes fantastic promises and results. And if they tell you to never contact your lender or landlord directly.
- Report any fraud. If you feel like you have been swindled, you can report possible mortgage fraud to the FHFA’s Office of Inspector General either online or at 800-793-7724.
Don’t Be Ashamed!
Don’t ever be ashamed to contact your mortgage servicer or landlord to seek relief and come up with a plan so that you can remain in your home. These are unprecedented times and being upfront and willing to work something out can protect you from fraudulent schemes out there.
These websites have information for homeowners and renters who may need financial relief, and also provide warnings of being scammed. They are good starting points to know what the CARES Act entails and other free help that’s out there.
- COVID-19 Portal
- Know Your Options COVID-19 Assistance
- Fannie Mae’s Disaster Response Network™ for Renters
- Beware of Scams
HUD Office of Housing Counseling
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions during this time. We are here to help you.