THOMASVILLE -- The Thomas County Sheriff's Department is investigating an international financial scam.

A Thomasville woman filed an incident report with the department Wednesday regarding fraud.

Teresa Bynum, 51, told The Thomasville Times-Enterprise Thursday that she responded to an ad that ran in the newspaper during March.

The ad was for a company called Investment Financial. It listed a phone number and Web site address.

Bynum and her husband contacted a man who identified himself as Richard White, who presented himself as a company representative.

Bynum said the conversation's gist was that if she and her husband sent the company $1,100 as collateral, the company would deposit a $10,000 loan in their checking account.

"We thought about it and everything and we thought, 'Yeah, that'd be good -- to make just one payment a month,'" she said.

The Bynums gave the man their checking account number, its routing number and other personal information.

They were to repay the company's loan over four years. They were also told if they made the first three payments, they would receive the $1,100 back from the company.

The Bynums used Western Union to wire the money Friday to the man's associate, a man identified as Jeffery Kooistra.

Bynum said it cost $89 to do so. She said she was also told the $89 would be refunded within 10 to 15 days.

"When this didn't go through, I got kind of suspicious about it," Bynum said.

She called the Better Business Bureau and connected with a Canadian BBB that handles the Toronto area. The business listed a Canadian address on its Web site. Bynum said she questioned that at first, but the man her husband spoke with said the business was based in Canada but dealt with United States customers, also.

Eventually, the BBB call led Bynum to contact Canadian police.

The Times-Enterprise left phone messages with two intake officers at the Metro Toronto Police's fraud department. The newspaper did not receive a response by deadline.

Anne Hart, complaint supervisor of the Canadian BBB branch that handles the greater Toronto area as well as midwestern and central Ontario, said the bureau has three complaint files from U.S. citizens regarding the company.

Hart told the Times-Enterprise the complaints originated from Texas, Washington, D.C., and Webster City, Iowa.

According to a BBB Reliability Report from the Canadian BBB's Web site, Investment Financial is not a BBB-registered business, though the home page for the company's Web site has a BBB Reliability Program logo on it.

The BBB Web site warns some companies have falsely claimed to be participants in that program.

Hart said the BBB sent mail to the company's address and it was returned to the BBB on April 6.

She said her department has referred complaints in cases such as these to call Project Phonebusters at 1-888-495-8501 or go online at www.phonebusters.com. Project Phonebusters investigates telemarketing scams.

Hart said there are a lot of fake Canadian-based companies preying on U.S. citizens.

"There are lots of them with bogus names," she said.

Jason Shoudel, a Thomas County Sheriff's Department investigator, said he tried, unsuccessfully, to reach the company to validate its authenticity.

"Right now, this is the only (case) that has come to our attention of this kind," he said regarding the possible fraud.

Shoudel said what makes tracking the people who bilk others in some scams is their mobility.

"A lot of times, in telemarketing schemes, they'll shift businesses," he said.

Shoudel, who handles mostly financial fraud cases, said he worked seven cases in February. He estimated the office probably handles between 50 and 80 cases a year.

Shoudel also offered a reminder about how to spot a scam.

"If you have to pay money to get money, it's generally a fraud," he said.

Norman Bankston, Times-Enterprise publisher, addressed the issue from the newspaper's standpoint.

The man who filed the ad in the newspaper in March paid for it with a stolen credit card number. The newspaper later realized the problem.

"As soon as we found out that the credit card was stolen, we immediately pulled the ad," Bankston said.

The newspaper pulled the ad after March 25.

"We are very sorry, obviously, that our customers lost money," Bankston continued. "Unfortunately, we cannot research the validity of every ad that comes through this newspaper."

In the meantime, the couple that is now $1,189 poorer because of the situation hopes the scam artist gets caught. Bynum doubts she'll get her money back.

"Guess I've got to suck it up now and go on," she said.



To reach reporter Blenda Link, call 226-2400, ext. 227.

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