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Sheriff’s Office investigates suspected predator targeting real estate agents

NEW ORLEANS -- Across Southeast Louisiana, female real estate agents are on edge after recent reports of a predator targeting realtors.

New Orleans-area agent Sarah Martzolf says, she's not taking any chances. Martzolf carries protection: a bright pink taser.

"I kinda take it out, have it in my hand just in case. It looks like a pink phone, carrying it around."  she said. "I've never had to use it, but I feel comfortable having it in my hand, in case I did."

From Metairie to the North Shore, reports are surfacing of a suspected predator, setting suspicious appointments with female agents inside vacant homes.

More than half a dozen agents have reported encounters to the New Orleans Metropolitan Association of Realtors and St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's Office.

"It is scary, there are so many people out there who do want to hurt you, that we need to protect ourselves," Martzolf said.

St. Tammany tells WGNO News, detectives are actively investigating the reports.  As that investigation continues, social media is helping to spread the word.  A Facebook post from Sheriff Randy Smith has already been shared more than 4,000 times.

He advises agents to take a friend or co-worker on showings.  If that's not possible, let someone know where you're going and when you'll return.  Ask for ID when scheduling a showing and make a copy. Carry your cell phone, keep the client in sight, familiarize yourself with the exits, and most importantly, trust your instincts.

If something doesn't feel right... get out... fast.

In Texas, in 2010, real estate agent Janice Tisdale was attacked by a client and barely escaped with her life.  In Arkansas, in 2014, Beverly Carter tragically did not.  She was murdered by Arron Lewis, who admitted he targeted Carter because she was alone and because she had money.

"I've been lucky enough that nothing has happened to me," Martzolf said. "That doesn't mean that I haven't been in the right place that something could have.  I always try to think ahead, but you can't always think ahead of predators."

Like many others, Sarah's stepping up safety measures in light of this suspected predator.  She's keeping that pink taser handy and says, she's not afraid to use it.