The owner of an online gold trading company in Northern Virginia has been charged in an alleged scheme to swindle more than $170,000 out of customers seeking to buy precious metals.

Earl Abdulmalik Mohammed, 47, the owner of Global Gold and Metals Trading in Dumfries, faces a single count of mail fraud, a crime that carries a penalty of up to 20 years in prison.

The business advertises the sale of Pamp Suisse silver bars, Johnson Matthey silver bullion bars, Chinese Silver Panda Coins, Australian Silver Dragon Coins and United Kingdom Silver Britannia coins.

According to charging documents filed in federal court in Alexandria, the FBI's Internet Crimes unit began to investigate after receiving numerous complaints, many of them with the same story: Mohammed would make good on the first several orders to gain the customers' trust, but once the customer makes a sizable order, the business took the money but never delivered the good.

"They will string you along with inexhaustible excuses for nondelivery of the product, citing everything from postal delays to the weather," the complainant wrote in the Ripoff Report, a consumer advocacy website.

When the customer asked for a refund, the company offered a new set of excuses, blamed the buyer for giving wrong banking information and saying that the company had a narrow window to make the wire transfer, the consumer wrote.

For instance, according to charging documents, one customer placed an order for 5,000 American Silver Eagle Coins for $150,000.

Global Gold and Metals Trading provided the buyer with six U.S. Postal Service tracking numbers, but a subsequent investigation found that the tracking numbers were bogus, and that USPS never received any freight associated with those tracking numbers.

Mohammed, who also goes by the name Earl A. Hill, then told the customer that he could no longer ship any silver because the price of silver had gone up, according to charging documents. He arranged to repay the customer in a series of bank transfers, but still owes $59,900, the documents said.

Sometimes when a buyer complained that the parcel never arrived, Mohammed allegedly would say he'd file a report or an insurance claim on the missing order.

However, the USPS has a record of only one complaint being filed by Mohammed or his company and that package appears to have been delivered, documents said.

"I believe that the reason the parcels were not received by GGMT's customers is not that they were lost or stolen in route, but they never actually provided to the USPS to deliver in the first place," wrote the postal inspector.