09 Jun

Ponzinomics: MLM Fraud and the FTC

Robert FitzPatrick, president of Pyramid Scheme Alert has written a new book about multi-level marketing and how the FTC allows these pyramid schemes to exist. In PONZINOMICS, the FTC’s Protection of Multi-Level Marketing, he discusses the political interests involved in MLM and the lack of action by FTC officials.

What is “Ponzinomics”? FitzPatrick uses the term to describe the scourge of multi-level marketing, which is nothing more than a pyramid scheme, but has been presented as a viable business opportunity. The government in the United States has gone so far as to protect these criminal enterprises which prey on millions of people each year, using cult-like tactics in furtherance of their pyramid schemes.

The book talks about the lure of the (false) income opportunity and the use of testimonials and the flaunting of wealth to draw people in.  FitzPatrick also discusses the tactics used to draw in new victims, as well as “blaming the victims” when the venture inevitably fails.

I’ll update you here when the book is available.

26 Jan

TelexFree: MLMs are Pyramid Schemes

This week we heard news of $20 million (hidden in a box spring) being seized by the federal agents in its ongoing investigation of TelexFree, a multi-level marketing company that the government says was a massive Ponzi scheme. You can read all about the TelexFree case on Patrick Pretty’s blog.

News reports about TeleFree refer to it as a Ponzi scheme (also called pyramid scheme). What isn’t mentioned anymore is the fact that it operated as a multi-level marketing company, just like Amway, Mary Kay, Herbalife, LuLaRoe, and hundreds of other companies you hear about on a daily basis. While it is NOW acnowledged that TelexFree was a Ponzi scheme, there was a time when it operated exactly as these other MLMs do.

The FBI says the following about TelexFree: Read More

23 Nov

Unraveling Ponzi Schemes

Ponzi Scheme Forensic AccountantIt has become commonplace to hear news stories of Ponzi schemes being uncovered. Investment scams and Ponzi schemes are all too common. Investors are lured in with promises of high returns. People in or nearing retirement find these investments enticing, especially as their retirement funds in the stock market have taken many hits in the last few years.

As I wrote in my book Expert Fraud Investigation: A Step-by-Step Guide, investors are becoming victims of these scams despite the proliferation of information available about phony investment schemes and the dire warnings given regularly by news reporters.  Perpetrators of investment schemes dream up stories explaining their unusually high rates of return on money, and get high net worth people to invest with them. Often these people are investing their entire savings with scammers.

These high investment returns typically amount to guarantees in excess of 10% per year. Often they are to the point of ridiculous, offering a 30% or 40% annual return. As a fraud investigator, it is clear to me that these offerings are bogus, because any investment that legitimately generated such returns would not be much of a secret to the rest of the world. But consumers, who are often eager to protect and grow their nest eggs, are all-too-willing to believe that this investment is the answer to their money problems. Read More

02 Oct

Why Products Offered by Multi-Level Marketing Companies Are So Expensive

usana-health-sciences-chinaMulti-level marketing companies (MLMs) are nothing but legalized scams. Make no mistake… they are pyramid schemes, but the government allows them to operate. Why are these obvious Ponzi schemes (which, by the way, the MLMs will swear up and down they are not… thou doth protest too much) allowed to operate? Who knows why the government will not crack down on this massive consumer fraud. The best thing we can do is educate consumers about the evils of multi-level marketing so they can avoid these companies… that means NOT becoming a distributor and NOT buying any of their products.

MLMs use products to make their companies look legitimate. They can’t be a scam if they are selling an actual product, right? WRONG. They absolutely can be a scam, because the product is simply a “front” for the scheme they are running. The product is meant to make the company look legitimate and hide the fraud.

The products from nearly every MLM are overpriced. That is, they cost more than comparable products available through legitimate channels (i.e. real retailers). The distributors will tell you it is because the products are very high quality!!! The magic juice has vitamins that are more bio-available! The make-up has better ingredients! The clothes are made better! The pills have super secret magical powers that cure all illnesses! These are all lies. The products are not better. Read More

19 Jun

Google Your Financial Advisor BEFORE Investing

jimmy-sodhi-investment-fraud

Jimmy Sodhi / Jimmy Singh

Investors are nearly $2.4 million poorer and Janamjot Singh Sodhi has earned himself an almost 5 year stay at Club Fed, thanks to a Ponzi scheme carried out through a company called Elite Financial Inc.  The fraudster also used the names Jimmy Singh or Jimmy Sodhi.

The scheme ran from 2005 through September 2011, Like any typical Ponzi scheme, Sodhi solicited investors with the promise of high rates of return, and used new investor money to pay “returns” to old investors. At the same time, Sodhi siphoned off money for himself.

Here’s where it gets interesting… Sodhi previously had a license to sell investments, but it was revoked in 2005. In 2006, he was permanently debarred by the New York Stock Exchange. And in 2009, Jimmy Sodhi was ordered to cease and desist all investment advisor activity in California. Read More

18 May

Bank Liability for Ponzi Schemes

An article in a recent edition of the Bloomberg BNS Banking Report on Ponzi Schemes and bank liability referred to an article I wrote on recognizing red flags of Ponzi schemes:

Under each, a plaintiff must account for both the plaintiff’s failure to investigate the would-be fiduciary before investing with the fiduciary and the plaintiff’s failure to monitor the fiduciary’s activities subsequent to the investment. As to the first, there are often many red flags to alert an investor to a Ponzi scheme that reasonable investors should notice and that many investors choose to ignore in pursuit of high returns. Fraud detection expert Tracy Coenen has noted more than fifteen red flags signaling a Ponzi scheme that any investor could spot with a reasonably diligent (and fairly simple) investigation. These items include: Read More

20 Jan

Ponzi Scheme and Investment Fraud Red Flags

Charles Ponzi

How do you know if you’re considering investing in a Ponzi scheme? The promoters will never come out and tell you they are running a pyramid scheme, so the investors have to be smart enough to recognize them on their own. The good news is it is easy to spot a Ponzi scheme.

Now I don’t mean that it’s easy to prove in a court of law that something is a Ponzi scheme. In a civil or criminal case, there are certain standards of proof that need to be met. But you’re not a court. You’re simply an investor. Whether you have $10,000 to invest or $10 million to invest, your money is probably pretty important to you.

Read More

04 Mar

What Do You Do With Mountains of Data in a Financial Investigation?

From my Thought Leadership series at Securities Docket:


A couple of months ago I presented a webcast for Securities Docket which focused on how my firm is using new tools and techniques to better analyze financial data in forensic accounting engagements. This topic is of interest to many attorneys who find themselves involved in cases with mountains of financial data. Getting the data is great, but your results in the case are directly related to how well you can put that data to work and make it mean something to your case.

Getting the Data
The process of discovery can be long and agonizing for everyone.  There is often a push and pull between the parties in the discovery process, as opposing counsel rarely wants to voluntarily give up damaging financial data.  It often takes several rounds of requests to get the information we seek. Read More

02 Apr

Daughter Turns in Mom in Tri Energy Ponzi Scheme

More than two years ago, I mentioned here a news story about a Ponzi scheme called Tri Energy Inc. The Securities and Exchange Commission first took action against the company in 2005:

The Securities and Exchange Commission yesterday obtained a temporary restraining order, an asset freeze, and other emergency relief, in a civil action filed against several individuals and entities alleged to be perpetrating an ongoing affinity fraud and Ponzi scheme. According to the Complaint, defendants have defrauded hundreds of investors of over $12 million by promising returns of 100% or more within 60 days. The Complaint alleges that defendants have been telling investors that these extraordinary profits were to be generated in part by helping an unnamed Saudi Arabian prince move gold from Israel through Luxembourg to the United Arab Emirates. In reality, according to the Complaint, although some money has been paid out to investors, these funds appear to have come from new investor money, and substantial amounts of investor funds have been transferred to bank accounts controlled by the proposed defendants and relief defendants. Read More