LAS VEGAS (KSNV MyNews3) -- A veteran fraudster is back behind bars after coming up with a new scam that preyed on animal lovers. In this Rip-Off Alert, thousands of victims were duped.
People and their pets form a special bond. So a business opportunity involving pets and promising to be inflation- and recession-proof sounded like a perfect match for thousands of people. But it wasn't.
Eric Stein duped victims into investing in franchises for a business called Return-A-Pet.
"He preyed on the fact that people loved pets,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Eleanor Berry. "They would pay between $5,000 and $50,000, and they would buy a territory."
When they bought in, they received pet tags.
"It says ‘If Found’ calls and it gives a toll free number and an ID number,” Berry said, “so if a person found a stray dog or cat they would say OK let me call the number."
The problem? Stein never paid the phone bill.
If anyone called to report a lost or found pet, no one answered. The service was a sham. It was not Stein's first, either.
"He was involved in a Ponzi scheme in the late ‘90s,” Berry said.
At that time, Stein and his cohorts bamboozled investors into buying direct-response infomercials to the tune of $50 million.
"After he found out there was an arrest warrant out for him, he went on the lam for a year,” Berry said. “He finally got caught, and he was arrested."
The Return-A-Pet scam was launched shortly after Stein got out of prison. Investors beware: Always do your homework before investing.
"The most important thing is to ask a lot of questions,” Berry said, “and you need to verify everything they tell you."
From 2007 to 2010, investors were bilked out of $500,000. Each investor lost between $5,000 and $50,000. Stein now faces up to 40 years in prison.