When an ad for online banking company Lockwood Mutual popped up, Cindy Thomas thought her prayers had been answered. A loan officer named Gary Bishop promised to lend the couple $10,000. All Thomas had to do was fill out the online form and send the company $685 through Western Union to secure the loan.
At first, Thomas was worried that Lockwood Mutual and Gary Bishop weren't legit, plus she didn't have all the money needed. But after Bishop spoke with Thomas' husband, Paul, and one of their daughters, she filled out the form. Bishop said he needed all her information, including a bank account number where he could deposit the loan. Thomas said she was suspicious from the beginning, especially after she wired the money at Western Union.
"I had bad feeling it wasn't going to work," she explained. "I was praying the whole time it would go through. I came home and I called Mr. Bishop, and he answered the phone. So, I thought it was legit. He answered it all day."
But the Thomas family learned quickly they had fallen victim to an online scam.
"Gary Bishop said if you send me the money, you'll have the money in your bank account within two hours." explained Cindy. "It's been months and I still haven't seen any money. This was December the 19th when I sent him the money."
Thomas continued to call Bishop, demanding he refund her money. He said he would. But the couple never received it. After a while, anytime Thomas would start to question Bishop about the company, he would hang up on her.
Earlier this week, WTOC called the same number Thomas was given for Gary Bishop and Lockwood Mutual. The number was disconnected.
Sadly, the Thomas family didn't only lose the $685 down payment, but now that Bishop has their account information, he's continued to withdraw money, leaving the couple in more debt.
Thomas called the Effingham Co. Sheriff's Office to file a report. Investigator Robert McQuaig quickly discovered that not only does Lockwood Mutual not exist, but neither does the person named Gary Bishop.
Whomever is running the scam operates out of Canada. McQuaig said his office can't touch him.
"Generally, once it goes outside the United States, unless it's a very high dollar amount, there's usually not a whole lot that can be done with it," McQuaig explained. "Any amount that transfers outside the United States, we have to refer it to higher authorities, like the Federal Bureau of Investigations. The amount the Thomas' were scammed out of, it wouldn't meet the criteria for the FBI to investigate it."
According to McQuiag, the FBI usually doesn't get involved unless it's between $25,000 and $35,000 or more.
McQuaig said with advanced technology and computers, it's hard to stop thieves from stealing your personal information. But he advised people to never give anyone you don't know personal information. McQuaig said if you want to apply or buy something online, like from Craigslist, do some research before giving people your credit card number. If your information is stolen, McQuaig said call your bank right away and close down your accounts.