RALEIGH, NC -- When someone promises you a guaranteed return on your investment, be cautious. That's the message of this story. Investors lost tens of millions of dollars because they believed a conman who recruited them their church.
Advertising is one way for businesses to attract customers. As long as there are companies seeking to sell something... advertising of some sort will likely be part of the equation.
So, when the company - Mobile Billboards of America - started looking for investors it had no problem finding them.
U.S. Postal Inspector Mike Carroll said, "They told investors that they were going to secure advertising from major advertisers to put billboard frames up on the side of trucks."
To be exact - investors were told their initial investment would be $25,000 and they would make 14% on their investment.
Carroll said, "They took in about $70 million from investors all over the country unfortunately very little of that got back to investors."
The mastermind behind the scam was using the money from new investors to pay old investors. Carroll said the payout got too big and it collapsed.
Based on how investors were recruited, postal inspectors say this was what's called "an affinity scam." Carroll said thats when schemers make you comfortable by telling you they that they are part of something you are a part of.
In this case - church groups.
Carroll said, "He would get pastors to invest, which would in turn a whole new level of confidence for the parishioners of the church." The impact on the lives of victims was devastating.
Carroll said, "I know several of the victims have gone back to work at 70 or 75 years of age to make the money to provide for their families."
Seven people were arrested in this case. Their jail sentences ranged from 5 years-- to 22 years for the mastermind behind the scam.
Some advice from postal inspectors - always be wary of anyone promising a guaranteed return on your investment. Every investment has risk. You need to determine how much risk you can tolerate.
US Postal Inspectors/ WFMY News 2