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Victims lose millions in investment scam

News4Jax Crime and Safety analyst offers advice to help protect you

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Authorities are calling Ronald Roberts a savvy conman who collected millions in cash from dozens of unsuspecting investors. They say the proceeds fueled an expensive gambling habit. News4Jax Crime and Safety Analyst Gil Smith says whenever asked to invest, always look for red flags.

"There are no guarantees in investing," warned Smith. "Even if it's very low risk, there are no guarantees."

Authorities say victims believed Roberts when he allegedly promised guaranteed returns on a real estate investment.

"He would approach potential victims telling them that they could double their investment and he would make good on that first investment," explained U.S. Postal Inspector Donald Washington.

For example, if someone invested $10,000, they were told they would get $20,000 back at the end of the 30 days.

"Once he got you on the hook for a larger amount such as 50-thousand or $100,000 he wouldn't make good on that return," said Washington. "Our suspect was a very savvy conman. He only dealt in cash. He was one of the best conmen I've ever seen because he was able to talk people into giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to him in cash, and cash only, that way it was very hard to follow the paper trail."

50 victims lost more than $2 million. As for the money, authorities say Roberts was an avid gambler, gambling as much as $30,000 to $50,000 a day.

Roberts pleaded guilty to charges of mail and wire fraud in this real estate investment case. But,  inspectors say this is not his first run-in with the law. They say he's been to prison before for similar schemes.

To avoid a similar situation, Smith reminds you

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to trust your gut when approached with an investment opportunity.

"If it sounds great and sounds almost  too good to be true, it probably is," said Smith. "The best thing to do is do your research, do some very thorough research take your time before you invest."

For more ways to avoid investment fraud, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers questions to ask and red flags to spot.