PORTLAND, Ore. -- A vicious online scam is taking Portland's rental community by storm, leaving many out in the cold and out hundreds, if not thousands, in cold, hard cash.
Renters have told KGW they are finding countless listings for rental properties that end up being completely bogus. They say the scammers are looking to squeeze cash out of desperate apartment-hunters by asking for a security deposit or background check fee upfront. But once they get the money, the listing and the "landlord" disappear.
Starting over in a new city is tough enough. For the rising number of Portland newcomers, the increasingly competitive and costly rental market make it even harder.
For one woman, scammers threw another wrench into the works.
"I started looking every single day," said Jill, who just moved from Seattle and didn't want her full identity revealed. "It always had the same formula."
During her three-month hunt she came across several legitimate online listings and several seemingly bogus ones. Curious, she followed up on one fishy example.
The "landlords" sent Jill several emails, saying they had gone to Africa to work with AIDS patients. They added that in order to see the house, she'd need to fork over a security deposit, totaling several hundred dollars.
"They're like 'Basically we had this opportunity. We couldn't pass it up,'" Jill said. So she drove by the house.
"And the real owner was there. And I just assumed I had misunderstood the lady I was talking to in the email, and I just assumed it was her," she said. "I was like, 'Hi! I'm Jill, I just emailed you. I thought you were out of town!' She was like, 'I have no idea what you're talking about.' It wasn't the person I was in communication with."
Sophie Dichter, spokeswoman for the Better Business Bureau, said she's not surprised.
"Rental scams are super common," she said.
So when looking for a real-life place, Dichter says look for some red flags.
"Number one: If the landlord isn't even from here," she said. "They say, 'I've got a place in Portland. I'm in Boston though.'"
Second, Dichter says face time is key. If the listing is legit, she says, an actual showing should be a given.
The third piece of advice?
"If a landlord asks you to pay your deposit via wire transfer, Western Union, Money Gram, that's another red flag," said Dichter.
She said those three tips can help keep renters from being left out in the cold.
And what happens if you find your place listed online?
Dichter says report it immediately, both with the actual site hosting the listing and with the BBB.