The pitch was simple: You can make a fortune from buying undervalued gems. But the 100 people who invested discovered something else They had all been conned. Millie Duke was one of them.
"We decided to buy one and see what happened," Duke said.
She bought one gem after receiving a call about investing in precious stones.
"They were very high pressure. She would call every week or two trying to get us to go higher and higher and trade one in for another that was much more expensive," Duke explained.
Both she and her husband thought it was risk proof, because the company told investors they could sell the stone back to them for almost triple the original amount.
"So people were led to believe that not only were they buying something that was undervalued to begin with, but that it was going to appreciate, you know, very quickly," explained. U.S. Postal Inspector Rich Cinnamo.
Duke bought one emerald for almost $5,000 and was told it would be worth $20,000 in just a few months.
"They were generally worthless, an item that was purportedly worth $5,800 at the time of the purchase was found to be 'worthless' and was considered by the laboratory in New York to be essentially a 'green rock'," explained Cinnamo.
Investors were warned not to break the seal on the packaging of the stones because if they did, the buyback offer would be null and void.
"Victims were really afraid to open these containers and have these items checked for themselves for fear that they wouldn't be able to sell them through the company at a later date," added Cinnamo.
Of course, without opening the box, they had no way to assess the value of the stones they had just purchased. When Duke decided to cash out, she called the company. No one answered.
"If they had taken us for that amount, they had more than likely taken others for probably more," Duke said.
Investigators say more than 100 victims invested a total of $4 million. Duke went online and found several complaints on scamvictimsunited.com. She also learned some of those victims lost a lot of money.
"Many people had given their life savings," said Duke. "They had been out house money, retirement money, $15,000 and more."
Postal inspectors warn consumers to never purchase expensive items like gems over the phone without being able to look them over.
"Once someone tells you that you can't really examine something that you're buying, you have to run the other way. That's a fraud," said Cinnamo.
This story has a happy ending of sorts. A suspect was taken into custody and he paid restitution, giving victims most of their money back. That rarely happens.