OKLAHOMA CITY - The phone rang at Mary Berry's realty office.
It was a young woman, upset and angry. She had wired money in response to a Craigslist ad, to rent a property in Guthrie that had Berry's name on it.
The only problem: Berry had never posted the ad.
"I was just at a loss because they spent about $2,000 and it was just a scam," Berry told NewsChannel 4. "I feel bad. Everyone in my office was upset over it. These poor people."
Despite warnings at the bottom of the ad not to wire money via Western Union and not to buy something without seeing it first, a criminal had succeeded.
The Oklahoma Association of Realtors says it's seeing a trend of scams, listing foreclosed properties as available for rent. Interested parties fill out an application, get "approved" and wire the money.
In the Guthrie case, the scammer even provided a fictitious "certificate of ownership" to persuade the victim, whose money is almost certainly gone.
"It's a smudge on all of us," said Berry, who wants to use the scam as an example to educate as many people as possible. "Use a realtor, call a realtor, call someone before you put money out. Never ever ever give money to anyone you have not met up front when you have not seen that property. Had they gone out and seen that property, they would have seen my sign anyway. They did this sight unseen."
To avoid being scammed, the Oklahoma Association of Realtors is offering this advice:
- Do not pay anyone you have not met
- Do not wire money through Western Union or similar services
- If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is
- Never give financial information over the phone
- View online postings with a critical eye and do your research
- Report suspicious activity or scams