Consumer Alert: People short changed in vending machine scam

A warning for people looking to supplement their income in the midst of a tough economy.

Experts say vending machines seem like a good investment. If you don't do your homework though, you could get short changed.

"One of our victims was an elderly lady who lost her entire life savings," says Don Washington, U.S. Postal Inspector

She was not alone. Investigators say thousands have been duped by vending machine scams in the U.S.

In most cases, the con men make big promises.

"Our suspect was very savvy, confident man. When he approached the potential investors (our) victims… he told them they could double their money."

In this case, the suspect promised he would help investors set up their own vending machine company. He told they would get high returns if they allowed him to teach them the ropes.

"As they gave him their initial investments, he would come back to them and he would need more money on top of the start up money to get the business up and running," Washington says.

The truth is, in this case, there was no business.

The con man was just stealing money.

Postal inspectors started tracking him when they learned he was sending bogus business letters through the mail.

"We basically followed our suspect and eventually found him in Las Vegas. He was an avid gambler and that's what he was doing with a lot of the money."

Investigators say vending machine schemes are common and growing in popularity.

Some important things to remember are:

Do your homework

Contact the Better Business Bureau to find out if the company is legitimate

Consult a financial advisor or lawyer before any money is exchanged or signing any agreement

Ask the company to confirm earning claims in writing

Earlier this month, the suspect in this case was sentenced to 25 months in prison and ordered to pay $500,000 in restitution.

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