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Parishioners lost millions in scam

Fellow congregant convinced more than 100 to invest in scheme

NEW YORK – If someone you pray with in church every Sunday tells you about a hot investment, do you trust them or not? One group of congregants let trust trump common sense, and they paid the price.

Bryant Rodriguez convinced fellow church parishioners to invest in an electronics business that he claimed could bring them big returns.

"If you're a religious person, you're more likely to believe another person from your church. So he was able to easily convince them," said U.S. Postal Inspector Eleanor Berry. "This company was offering a 30 percent return on people's investment."

More than 100 people jumped at the opportunity.

"He talked very convincingly and people trusted him," Berry said.

He even told them to invest with cash. Unfortunately, it was all a scam.

"The people who lost money in this scam were hard-working, blue-collared people, and they were investing their life savings," Berry said.

In all, investors lost $3 million.

"These people weren't sophisticated investors, and they basically went on it because they trusted this person," Berry said. "And that's why they got defrauded, because they trusted him."

Postal inspectors said never let trust get in the way of common sense. There were many red flags along the way for Rodriguez's investor.

"Thirty percent returns. Ridiculous," Berry said. "Investing cash is just another red flag.

Not getting statements, that is another red flag.

Eventually, the scam collapsed, and Rodriguez was arrested.

Rodriquez was convicted for his crimes and sentenced to seven years in prison. Postal inspectors describe Rodriguez's crime as an affinity scam, exploiting the trust and friendship that exist in groups of people who have something in common.

Bottom line, always research any investment, no matter who's pitching it.