16 Nov

GoFundMe Fraud (Again)

Things aren’t always as they seem. I’m often suspicious. It’s a hazard of being a fraud investigator. But sometimes we’re not even suspicious of the right things.

Take the situation involving the homeless man (Johnny Bobbit Jr.) who allegedly gave his last $20 to Kate McClure when she became stranded on a roadside with no gas in her car. She and her boyfriend Mark D’Amico started a GoFundMe that ultimately raised over $400,000.

And now Bobbit, McClure, and D’Amico are being charged with fraud because the whole thing was apparently made up. Police went over more than 60,000 text messages sent by McClure and D’Amico, and this one from McClure to a friend of hers has the punch line: Read More

23 May

Typical Red Flags of Ponzi Schemes

Last week the FBI posted an article on its site, A Pyramid of Lies, that told the story of the Gentry Ponzi scheme in rural Tennessee. Ponzi schemes are pretty easy to spot if you know the red flags. Even if you don’t know FOR SURE that an investment “opportunity” is a Ponzi scheme, if you see enough of the red flags, you should be smart enough to walk away. Better to be safe than sorry. Invest your money in something that isn’t showing these signs.

Jeffery Gentry stole more than $10 million with his investment scam. Let’s run through the red flags that popped up in the article: Read More

23 Feb

Why MLMs are Pyramid Schemes

Multi-level marketing companies (MLMs) are nothing but pyramid schemes. Oh sure, there are websites that go to great pains to discuss the difference between MLMs and pyramid schemes. But when you boil it down, MLMs are indeed pyramid schemes, and ta class action lawsuit filed against Arbonne International last year explains this well.

First they describe a typical pyramid scheme:

A classic pyramid scheme operates as follows: recruits pay into the scheme for the right to receive compensation from the scheme based, in large part, on bringing new recruits into the scheme. Each recruit’s money is used to pay other recruits in the scheme (particularly more senior recruits), as well as the scheme promoter. The more recruits one brings in, and the closer to the top of the pyramid he is, the more money he might make. Recruits will necessarily lose their money unless they recruit enough new people into the scheme, who will also lose their money unless they recruit enough new people, and so on. Because there is little or no outside money flowing into the scheme from real operations (other than recruitment), because payments from recruits are shared disproportionately with the persons closer to the top of the pyramid, and because the scheme operator takes a healthy cut for himself, the vast majority of recruits are doomed to lose most or all of their investments.

Read More

22 Feb

Ponzi Schemes Explained

In this one minute video, Tracy explains how Ponzi schemes work. They are also called pyramid schemes because the constant recruitment of new “investors” creates the shape of a pyramid, with many new investors required at the bottom of the pyramid to pay “returns” to the earlier investors.

The hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme include:

  • Promises of extraordinary returns (interest) on investment – When it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Why on earth could you earn so much more on your money with this scheme than with a traditional investment?
  • There is no actual investment strategy – You won’t know this, because they’ll make it sound like there is. The promoter will tell you about this revolutionary product or business model or investment that is going to generate all this money. But in reality, there is nothing creating returns. The promoter is only generating “returns” from new investors, and is using your money to pay off other investors and line his own pockets.
  • Money from new investors is used to pay returns to earlier investors – Since there is no real business or viable investment strategy, new investors must be recruited to bring money into the scheme. The “returns” paid to earlier investors are often used as “proof” of the viability of the investment strategy when trying to recruit new victims.
  • The scheme eventually collapses – It may take a long time, but eventually the pyramid scheme fails when the promoter can’t recruit enough new investors to keep the money flowing.
31 Jan

Herbalife Manipulates Distributor Earnings Numbers

When Herbalife settled the case brought against it by the FTC, it appeared the company may change how it was doing business. It was said that the company was going to start making truthful claims about earnings. But the most recent earnings disclosure from Herbalife does anything but that.

Until 2017, Herbalife published statements of average gross compensation that covered an entire year. Like all other MLMs, they provided selected information that ended up being misleading in various ways, but ultimately it still showed a pretty dismal picture and showed that few people made much money as a distributor.

But with the 2017 statement, Herbalife made a curious change. An in-depth analysis was written up by Christine Richard at Seeking Alpha. Here is the short story. In a November 2107 conference call, Herbalife president Des Walsh said the company had about 215,000 distributors. In this earnings disclosure statement published in November 2017, Herbalife said: Read More

10 Jan

Return on Investment for College Degrees

Sometimes it is fun to get away from the topics of fraud and divorce. I thought these were some great resources on some of the highest paying jobs to help you figure out where you might get the greatest return on your investment if you’re thinking about higher education.

Payscale.com says some of the highest paying Bachelors degrees by salary include things like petroleum engineering, actuarial science, geophysics, and other science-y types of careers. You can search by major to see how what you’re interested in stacks up. It’s nice that they show both early career pay and mid-career pay. Public accounting comes in at #30 with early career pay of $57,500 and mid-career pay of $110,000.

They also have a list for highest paying Associate degrees, for those who might not be want to go to school for so long. The top degrees in that list are earning in the high $30s and low $40s in their early careers, and there are a lot of interesting sounding jobs in the list.

 

21 Dec

False Claims in Multi-Level Marketing (MLM)

One of the most upsetting parts of the recruitment into a multi-level marketing company is the false earnings claims. People are lured into these companies with the promises of riches. It is not only done by presenting the tiny fraction of people at the top of the pyramid as typical when they are not. It is also done with outright lies about the level of income that “average” person can expect to make.

The entire business model of MLM is built around lies. Lies about how much you’ll have to work, how you’ll make your money (if you even make any), what you’ll have to do, and how you’ll develop new leads. They lie about how easy the whole thing is, and how you’ll be successful if you’re just willing to put in the time. (The truth is that you’re almost guaranteed to fail.)

Here are some of the most common lies told in the recruiting process:

1. You will be your own boss. You can set your own hours and dictate how you do business. (Not really true. The MLM company tells you how you’re allowed to do business.) You can control how much you make based on how much you’re willing to work. (Not true either. Your earnings are limited by your ability to recruit and the amount of money those recruits are are willing to put in the scheme.) Read More

13 Dec

Jeunesse Is a Pyramid Scheme, Says Expert

In October, a billion dollar class action lawsuit was filed against Jeunesse, alleging that the multi-level marketing company (MLM) is actually a pyramid scheme. Truth in Advertising summarizes the lawsuit:

The lawsuit, which was filed Oct. 12 in California federal district court by three current distributors and one former distributor, names 15 defendants and 100 unknown defendants that plaintiffs allege are responsible for the injuries and harm they incurred. Named defendants include Kim Hui, who held the second-highest distributor rank in Jeunesse as a Presidential Diamond director, and her company US Global System (USGS), as well as four Diamond directors in Hui’s downline, May Chang, Yvonne Yen, Samson Li and Lisa Wang.

The lawsuit says Jeunesse Global makes tons of money in Hong Kong and China by exploiting Chinese American distributors, and the company’s “… conduct violates foreign laws and constitutes money laundering and tax evasion.” Truth in Advertising reports:

The complaint most likely implicates violations of foreign law because in 2005, the Chinese government enacted a law called Regulation of Direct Sales and Regulation on Prohibition of Chuanxiao (Chuanxiao roughly translates to MLM). According to this regulation, direct sales are permitted in mainland China but MLMs are notThe suit seeks to hold defendants liable for fraudulent business practices, false advertising, and violations of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO) and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, among other things.

This lawsuit was the latest in a series of class action lawsuits filed against Jeunesse  recently. A July 2016 suit alleged that the company is  pyramid scheme and there are secret compensation packages. A December 2016 lawsuit alleged that the company is a pyramid scheme and preys on Chinese American Immigrants. Read More

11 Dec

Year-End Tax Planning Tips for Consumers

Now is the time when everyone scrambles to get their tax situation in order. There are some tax moves you should make BEFORE the end of the year, so act now.

I was interviewed in 2008 on CNBC about year-end tax planning. The advice is still relevant today, and each one of these tips still applies. These are some really great things you should do before December 31.