Jamill Martinez has found a new way to reach homeowners and renters who may need assistance.
“The most important thing is you have to go to the person,” she said. “You can’t wait for them to call you.”
For months, Martinez has hit the streets in Lexington, Massachusetts to host impromptu Q&A sessions at bodegas and in the city’s parks. One of her goals is to educate homeowners about scammers who may try to take advantage of people going through difficult economic times. Some offer to assist with mortgage payments for an upfront fee, while others claim to be landlords looking for rent payments.
“At first, people are shocked. ‘Is that really happening? I wonder if it’s happening to me.’”
That’s when Martinez is able to connect them with a HUD-certified counselor at Lawrence Community Works (Neighborworks network organization), where she is the director of operations.
“It’s the perfect opportunity to open doors for families,” she said. Some of the new clients need services such as rental support and they also enroll in financial coaching.
NeighborWorks America launched STOPHOMESCAMS.org to support the community-level efforts of Lawrence Community Works and other NeighborWorks organizations. The initiative highlights tips for spotting and reporting home scams and features a Partner Toolkit with media materials, fact sheets and other resources, available in English, Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.
NeighborWorks has helped educate consumers when scammers sense their targets are more vulnerable than usual. Scammers took advantage of others during the 2008 housing crisis and again throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. One in five renters was at risk of eviction in 2020, and the number of delinquent mortgages hit its highest level in more than five years.
Social media is the dissemination point for many scams and also a good place to fight back with information to protect consumers. But to Martinez, the most successful outreach will always be finding people where they are.
“Social media helps, but if you’re out of work with no Wi-Fi and you’re using a pre-paid phone, you aren’t spending time on Facebook. You need to talk to someone in person.”