13 Mar

Spotting Red Flags of Investment Fraud (Ponzi Schemes)

There is no shortage of allegations of investment fraud since the stock market tanked in 2008.  Are there more investment scams occurring, or have market conditions just led to the discovery of more of these schemes? I’ll guess the latter, although no one really knows for sure.

The beauty of fraud is that so much of it goes undetected. Those involved in financial fraud actively conceal their schemes and their involvement, so it’s impossible for fraud investigators to know exactly how much fraud is happening. For example, perpetrators go so far as to pay others to participate in the scheme and cover up phony financials and non-existent promissory notes. This kind of concealment leads to more investors putting money in a scheme, and ultimately creates ever larger financial losses.

In the end, however, it doesn’t necessarily matter if we can put our finger on exactly how many of these investment schemes are out there. What really matters is being able to identify the hallmarks of such schemes so that investors can avoid them like the plague. Read More

27 Feb

Almost Everyone Loses Money in MLM

Don’t let your Facebook friends fool you: They’re not making money in the multi-level marketing company they keep pitching to you. And you won’t either. Multi-level marketing is not a business. More than 99% of participants in multi-level marketing (MLM) lose money. Companies like Mary Kay Cosmetics promote the “income opportunity,” but when the vast majority of MLM distributors say they lost money, the story changes to “they didn’t really want to make money,” or “they just did it for fun,” or “they didn’t try hard enough.”

The truth is that MLM is not a “business opportunity.” Almost everyone who participates is guaranteed to lose money. You can follow all the instructions, talk to everyone you know, invest money in the scam, and you will still lose money. Why? Because MLM is nothing but a pyramid scheme in which all the people at the bottom of the pyramid will lose money.

This video was published in 2016, but the information is still very relevant. It features victims of the Herbalife “business opportunity.” They put lots of money, time, and effort into their “businesses” and ended up losers.

The fact remains that all multi-level marketing companies are abusive systems which take money from the participants, offering them the (false) opportunity to earn money, knowing that they are virtually guaranteed to lose money.

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.