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Rip-Off Alert: Lures of high-rate returns scams victims out of $32M

It was an investment offer that sounded too good to be true — and it was. Scammers ultimately stole millions of dollars from victims. (KSNV)

It was an investment offer that sounded too good to be true — and it was.

Scammers ultimately stole millions of dollars from victims.

Lalah Larew and her late husband were always focused on having enough money to retire. Her husband, a West Virginia farmer, met a woman who told him about an investment that would give a 10 percent rate of return.

“He called the company and got details, and he said, ‘You know, this sounds OK,” she said.

The Larews decided to invest $30,000 with Donna Brown and Budget Finance Co. and signed a contract.

“It was folded and looked like a deed. It had letterhead and everything like that,” she said. “It had the interest rate on it, and then we started receiving quarterly statements.”

According to those quarterly statements, their investment was steadily growing. So, they invested an additional $30,000.

Two years ago, Larew’s husband learned he had an aggressive form of cancer and passed away. She then began organizing their finances and decided to call on their investments.

“I got a recording that said Budget Finance Company is closed indefinitely,” she said. “Wow. That was a stunner. I just thought, ‘What is going on?’”

She began searching the Internet and found out she was one of 800 victims in a scam with $32 million in losses.

“I don't think I'll get that money back,” she said.

U.S. postal inspectors say Budget Finance was initially a legitimate company, but something changed.

“New investment money was coming in to fund old investors interest, principle withdrawals, that sort of stuff,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Ian Ortega.

Inspectors say there were red flags.

“Be very leery of any investment opportunities that guarantee high rates of return,” Ortega said. “Don't just rely on word of mouth. You have to do your proper due diligence.”

Brown was convicted of running this scam. She was sentenced to 10 years in prison and ordered to pay restitution to the victims.

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