by Madelyn Lazorchak, NeighborWorks America’s Communications Writer
Symphony Malveaux, community relations coordinator for Louisiana’s Mid City Redevelopment Alliance, had been reading up on home scams as she prepared to bring awareness to her community through NeighborWorks America’s Stop Home Scams initiative. Then she realized she’d nearly fallen victim to a scam herself.
Malveaux had inherited her family home and was trying to figure out how to make back payments when she received a letter telling her that for $500, a company would adjust payments and in just months, the home would be hers.
At that emotional time, the offer seemed like a lifesaver; she was ready to grab hold, she says. But as she began to research the company, it didn’t appear to exist. She phoned repeatedly. No one returned her calls. She’d come close to being scammed, she says, and she wrote about her experience for Mid City’s website. “I wanted to show it could happen to anyone.”
As she continues to publicize the Stop Home Scams initiative, which NeighborWorks began in January 2021 with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, she continues to connect with her community. Recently, she heard from woman who had inherited a home and was having trouble with back payments. “It was just like me,” says Malveaux, who ended up selling her inherited home to a family friend. “We were able to connect and offer resources. It’s good to be able to have a personal story we can share with people. We can tell them, ‘You’re not alone.'”
Raising awareness about scams – in Spanish
Juan Carlos Gordillo, marketing and communications coordinator for Neighborhood Housing Services of South Florida knew how important it was for members of the community he worked with to get information about scams in their native language. He had seen similar outreach by healthcare organizations offering vaccines.
“Here in South Florida, it’s super important,” he says. “There are a lot of people that don’t speak English – or don’t speak it that well. They won’t pay attention to that information unless it’s provided in their own language. Without it, they might miss crucial information.”
In the South Florida region he serves, a significant portion of the population speaks Spanish (1.7 million) or Creole (more than 100,000). In that context, Gordillo began translating information about scams into Spanish as he publicized the Stop Home Scams initiative for the nonprofit’s social media pages. Last month, NeighborWorks released a Spanish version of its Stop Home Scams website, hoping to protect as many individuals as possible from mortgage and rental scams.
Gordillo, who began sharing that information, too, says NHSSF is now looking at hiring a Haitian Creole translator. Meanwhile, NHSSF continues to create public awareness of housing and mortgage scams, which are on the rise across the country, exacerbated by an economic downturn caused by COVID-19.
So far, his clients haven’t reported scams related directly to housing, he says, but some residents – and even staff members – have been approached with other types of scams, often via text message. The NeighborWorks initiative talks about how to report scams to the authorities.
A scam scare in South Dakota
Maureen Nelson, senior program director at Grow SD, says a resident in his 80s came to her recently holding a letter he’d received on a pink piece of paper. “Final notice,” it said, demanding that he renew his home maintenance contract. “The pink paper made him nervous,” she says. “He didn’t have a contract and he doesn’t need one. I told him it wasn’t a good investment.”
Nelson says the letter was a good reminder of the type of scams that are out there. Grow SD is working to raise awareness of home and rental scams as part of the Stop Home Scams initiative. “People have to keep seeing it; they have to keep hearing about it,” Nelson says. Grow SD is constantly putting messages about scams on social media. They also sent press releases to newspapers across the state.
A grant from NeighborWorks, with support from the Wells Fargo Foundation, helps with outreach. “Ask questions. That’s the biggest thing I tell people,” Nelson says. “If you get something in the mail that doesn’t make sense, ask about it.”