“It was October of 2017, I was trying to get out of an apartment complex I was living in, so I was looking on Craigslist to try to find a place to live. Found a house, it was pretty decent,” said John Nyehart, a disabled veteran who lives in Portland.
He got responses back from the supposed landlord and was sent a rental application. The process was rushed and hurried.
“I sent him a legitimate rental application, my Social Security number, driver’s license, I had my military ID as well,” Nyehart said. “Sent him pictures of my ID, which was not smart, but I did anyway. I needed the house.”
Nyehart didn’t completely fall for the scam because the lock box code the scammer gave him was too long. So, he asked neighbors who the real property owner was, and quickly found out it was a con.
But the scammer had enough information to steal Nyehart's identity. They used his name to post fake rentals online all over the country.
"I started getting messages on Facebook, people asking me about houses I had for rent and I’m like, 'I don’t have any houses for rent'," Nyehart said. "They’re nice houses. They’re priced for rent lower than – not by much – but lower than you normally would see."
The scammer gave prospective renters the same sob story in broken English – only over text messages and usually using a variety of different phone numbers for each property. The texts said the following, or something almost verbatim:
“My property is still available for rent, we had to relocate due to my wife condition suffering from cancer which she just have few months to live that why we moved out of the area to be closer to her family. And i’m not looking to come back to the home because i cannot stand the memories when she is gone, this is my reason for leasing out the home as i do not want it to be vacant just as its now, i’m in need of a great tenant who would help take care of this property like their own.”
The scammer refused to speak over the phone, and said he was “at work." The scammer sent potential renters a lease agreement, and sometimes, even a deed of trust, which is an agreement between a lender and borrower to give property to a trustee.
Nyehart said the con artist would sometimes send potential renters lock box codes for the homes, which would sometimes work.
Lastly, the scammer asked people to wire him money through money transfer apps.
"Some people have gone so far as to try to pay for rent for like up to six months. So, I know some people have lost like $6,000, $7,000, $8,000 plus $2,000 for a deposit. This last person who contacted me said she lost $1,000,” Nyehart told KGW. “Once you send him the money, he’s in the wind.”
Prospective renters who lost thousands of dollars in the scam now directly contact Nyehart, whose Facebook inbox is overflowing. Some people sensed a scam was occurring, others were angry at Nyehart, thinking he was responsible for the con.
"I just answer them back [and say], ‘No, don’t send any money, don’t send them any information, he’s a scam, it’s a scam!’” Nyehart said.
He started keeping track of the victims who reach out to him about six months ago.
"I probably have enough to fill a notebook, it’s been that bad,” Nyehart said. “There’s Tacoma, Sacramento, New Mexico, Nevada, Indiana, another California, Florida… Illinois. And this last lady was Arizona. I’ve had Texas, Colorado.”
KGW's Morgan Romero reached out to the scammer. When she confronted him via text message with the real John Nyehart’s story, the scammer told Romero he didn’t know what she was talking about and that she had the wrong number. Then he stopped responding.