If it’s too good to be true, it probably is, as Paris resident and single mom Tijuania Harris found out.
While looking for a new place to live, Harris came across a Facebook listing for a house for rent. She had seen the listing earlier with a higher price. But after several red flags, she ultimately escaped from sending a stranger her money.
“I always pray about stuff,” Harris said. “I believe that was God showing me the way.”
The property is owned by Brent Barry of Honey Grove. Barry owns six rental properties in Paris and Reno, and contacted The Paris News to put the word out about the scam. He said it was the second time this year someone with an out-of-state contact number has copied an online listing for his property and posted a lower price on social media to con residents out of money.
“I don’t want someone to lose a lot of money from them,” Barry said.
When Harris contacted the scammer, going by the name Marquis Shane Michael, she said he was willing to work with her on the deposit.
“It was listed at $900,” she said, “and then he said, ‘do you think that’s too much?’”
When Harris wanted to meet with Michael to view the property on 33rd Street NE, he said he was too busy and told Harris to just stop by and take a look around. Initially, she said, she was ready to send him the money, but she went to Walmart, prayed and then stopped back by the property. That’s when she saw a note in the window listing Barry as the owner, along with his contact information and a photo of himself.
Harris said she told Michael she couldn’t send him that amount of money without seeing him first.
“He never replied back,” she said, ading she then called Barry and told him about her near miss.
Paris Police Chief Bob Hundley said when doing business online, it pays to be careful.
“Scams involving real property for sale or rental property, especially those advertised online, are not frequent for our area but they do happen,” he said. “If someone is interested in property being advertised by an individual online, you should always request to see the property, inside and out with a representative or owner there. One should never go to look at property alone, you should always have someone with you. If there is a request for the person to put up some type of deposit online before meeting with the owner or agent at the property, just don’t do it.”
Contact information like phone numbers and emails can be created in minutes, Hundley said, and deleted just as fast, as soon as money has been transferred.
“If there is a name associated with the advertisement, check out that person. There are many public websites to check identity,” Hundley said. “Red flags for a transaction would include if you are asked to wire money, if they request a deposit or fees before you’ve signed legal paperwork, if they say they’re out of the country or are unavailable to show you the property for an indefinite amount of time, or if they ask you to give money to a third party on their behalf.”
Hundley said he called one of the numbers associated with the scam, and it went to voicemail for a Google account, which is typical of a scammer.
“If the price is really great or seems to be such a good deal for the type of property advertised, it could well be a scam,” he said.
Lydia Fitzgerald, the president of the Paris Board of Realtors, said she’s notified area real estate agents about the scam.
“The Paris Board of Realtors wants to ensure that no local residents fall victim to this type of scam,” she said. “Everyone should feel safe and secure while searching for housing, be it rental or purchase. We encourage anyone who is the victim of or believes they might be the target of this terrible ploy to contact our local law enforcement immediately. That is why it is always important for both prospective tenants and buyers to educate themselves and choose a local Realtor to assist whenever necessary.”
Barry said the first time he heard about the scammer, someone had moved into one of his houses, and the renter told him a stranger had come to her door insisting he had the right to come in because the scammer had told him to just walk on in.
“She was scared to death,” Barry said. “If she’d had a gun, she would have shot him. I just want to keep someone from getting shot.”
In addition to Hundley’s tips, Barry said it helps when property owners post their information at the house, like a notice inside the window with their photo. He said renters can check the online property listings at the Lamar County Appraisal District website to see if the name of the owner matches with the poster. Property owners also can put their names on the images they post online to prevent scammers from copying the listing.