Friday, August 19, 2011

Housing Scams are Alive and Thriving in Northern Virginia

AYM clients work toward having a place of their own to call home. Scam artists work toward swindling money from vulnerable people. One weekend, an AYM client contacted staff to ask for $1,600 from her escrow account to cover the deposit and first month’s rent for a house with all utilities were included. She was so excited as she described the house – a fenced in backyard for her children to play, washing machine and dryer in the basement, close to excellent schools! The “owner” had given her a tour of the property earlier that day, but he was leaving the country the next day for six years. He claimed he was looking to provide a needy family with a home, which is why the rent was so inexpensive. All the AYM client had to do was send him a money gram for $1,600 and he would send her the key and rental agreement once he received the money.

This AYM client had been in the AYM program for over a year, where she made great progress, including completing an employment training program, obtained full-time employment, had a car, and had saved money in preparation for transitioning out of the program. She was ready to live independently. Staff discussed the reality of the situation with the client and emphasized that something that seemed too good to be true probably was. Despite this conversation, the client was ready to go forward because she believed in the "owner." Luckily, staff was able to get in touch with the actual realtor and confirmed that rent was $2,700 a month, not the $800 she had been told. The realtor was aware that someone had posted a fraudulent ad offering the house for rent and was working with the police to apprehend him. The next day, the "owner" called the client five times pressuring her for the money. When she confronted him with the truth, he hung up. She was devastated, but thankful that she had gained valuable life experience without losing $1,600. AYM staff are working with her to locate an affordable living setting, as she is ready for independence.

Susie Guido, LPC
Residential Therapist
Alternative House

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