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Police warn renters to watch out for scams

With Jackson County's vacancy rate just above 2 percent, police officers are warning people looking for a place to live to not get taken for a ride by scammers.

Last week, members of the Southern Oregon Rental Owners Association reported 132 vacancies out of 5,689 reporting units, or a 2.32 percent vacancy rate. Medford police say thieves frequently try to work this to their advantage, cobbling together fake ads they will post on Craigslist and other websites.

"Right now they're able to find vulnerable people," said Lt. Kevin Walruff of Medford police.

But low vacancy rate or not, the scheme is one that has been around for years. The current number of open cases was not immediately available, but investigators said they deal with more than a handful annually.

The scam artists often snag photos from real houses, though they usually aren't for sale or rent. Typically, the thieves aren't local, and will ask prospective tenants either to wire them money for a deposit, or to go to a store and buy pre-paid gift cards, then read the numbers to them over the phone.

"That's a huge red flag," said Ellen Klem, director of consumer outreach and education for the Oregon Attorney General's Office. 

Basic steps renters can use to protect themselves include making sure the owner is local and asking to see the house with them. Jackson County's Property Data Online service is a good resource to see details about the home or apartment complex, including current owner and sales history. Renters should also verify details about the property and the seller with a third party.

"Research it yourself. Look in the phone book, call the Better Business Bureau, maybe stop by the office," Walruff said. "Don't necessarily trust the information in that ad as being real."

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ryanpfeil.