Avoiding scams in a market primed to take advantage of renters
In the Rogue Valley, it's hard enough to find a place to live due to low inventory and high prices, but when scammers from around the world enter the mix, the house hunting headache gets even more complicated.
It's easy to pull up Craigslist, enter your price range, and browse houses in the area. It's not so easy, however, to know which are actually for rent.
"They were still talking to us about the house like they knew what was going on, like they told us the different potential problems the house could have. They told us what we'd have to pay for in the utilities, water, trash, sewage, all that," says Mel Gordon, a Medford resident and renter. "They seemed like they were very knowledgeable in the house, and they seemed like they, you know, actually owned it."
Gordon didn't meet the landlord in person because they said they were visiting family out of town. But the advertisement looked legitimate, and the property had a rental sign.
Nothing seemed suspicious until payment time.
"They asked us for a wireless transfer of the security deposit," Gordon said, "and that was when our first red flag went up, and we were kind of like, okay this person is asking for 1,200 dollars, but we need to have a new house or a place to live in three weeks."
Gordon says she and her roommate were desperate. They looked for a place for five months total, and were running out of time. But the urgency played into the scammer's mission perfectly.
"A lot of these scams are too good to be true. It's an amazing piece of property, it's for a great price, and that creates urgency on the potential renter to secure this property and to pay the person," says Lt. Mike Budreau of the Medford Police Department.
Once you pay that money, you can't get it back.
Medford PD says many scammers are outside the country and safe behind their computers. They urge you take precautions - visit the property, meet the landlord in person, and only pay when you're certain where it's going.
"They're praying on someone that's desperate for a home in a difficult market to get a rental home, and also for a good price," Lt. Budreau says.
Gordon didn't go through with the purchase, and says she's more cautious now than she was before.
And she has a right to be. Medford PD had 188 cases of theft by deception last year alone including rental and other scams.