Windy City Rehab Fraud?

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Windy City Rehab is an awesome reality show on HGTV. Alison Victoria (legal name Alison Gramenos) and Donovan Eckhardt are the faces of the show, and they find properties in Chicago to rehab and sell. But construction projects don’t always go as planned, and a lawsuit filed in Cook County on December 30 alleges that the Windy City Rehab team defrauded James and Anna Morrissey.

In March 2019, the Morrisseys bought a 4,000 square foot home at 2308 West Giddings Street in Lincoln Square for $1.36 million. The property was sold for $645,000 in October 2017 and then underwent renovations featured on an episode of Windy City Rehab.  (You can even see this episode next week, 6pm central on January 14!)

The couple says that the house leaks… that the day after they closed the shower on the second floor leaked gallons of water into the kitchen. They say they paid for a new roof, but that the old roof was simply repaired and now it leaks. The windows allegedly were installed improperly throughout the house, with water coming in the windows in the master bathroom and the bedrooms. The Morriseys further say that the masonry and mortar are crumbling on the outside of the house, and the front door is crooked. Continue reading

How Does MLM Affect People?

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pyramid-selling-scamThe late Jon Taylor, PhD wrote a thorough and excellent book about multi-level marketing (MLM): The Case (For and) Against Multi-Level Marketing: The Complete Guide to Understanding the Flaws – and Proving and Countering the Effects – of Endless Chain “Opportunity” Recruitment, or Product-Based Pyramid Schemes.

He put the book together in 2011 and 2012, but it is still relevant.

If you’re not familiar with MLM, you should acquaint yourself with the horrible statistics.  Basically, the odds of a distributor losing money in multi-level marketing are greater than 99%. Despite the fact that participants are almost guaranteed to lose money in MLM, these scams are marketed as business opportunities with the potential for unlimited earnings. Continue reading

MLM Income Disclosure Statements

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A collection of annual income disclosure statements published by multi-level marketing companies, continuously updated. Last updates done 08/02/20 to add new statements for Monat, Rodan & Fields and It Works.

Some MLMs release income disclosures or earnings disclosures. These numbers are not required to be disclosed in the United States, but some of the companies do it anyway to appear transparent. The disclosures theoretically provide insight into how much distributors earn in commissions or overrides, but they are generally worthless. They are worthless because of what they do not disclose.

Multilevel marketing companies purposely omit important information that would allow potential distributors or investors to have real insight into these plans. In general, earnings disclosure statements often fail to provide the following information that is critical to understanding the plans and the results: Continue reading

Multi-Level Marketing is Not a Legitimate Business Model

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One of the common defenses of multi-level marketing is that it is a legitimate business method that has been around for a long time.

I’ve also been told that if it was illegal, it would have been shut down. Some companies that were widely touted as “legal” or “legitimate” MLMs, such as Advocare, HAVE been shut down or prohibited from using the MLM model. Who knows the rhyme or reason to that.

But neither the length of existence nor the lack of law enforcement action means something is legitimate or not a fraud. Remember Enron? Remember Bernie Madoff? These and others have been in business for a long time, and turned out to be complete frauds. Continue reading

FTC Sues Nerium: Illegal Pyramid Scheme

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Last week the FTC announced a lawsuit against Neora (formerly known as Nerium), alleging that it is an illegal pyramid scheme. Couple this with the recent end to AdvoCare’s multi-level marketing method of business at the hands of the FTC, and people like me (who think MLMs are abusive pyramid schemes) have a bit of hope.

More specifically, the FTC suit goes after Nerium under the parts of the FTC Act that prohibit unfair or deceptive practices and false advertising. The company was known as Nerium from 2011 to 2019. In February 2019, the company changed the name to Neora. It is suspected that the name change was because the Nerium name was connected to so many complaints and lawsuits.

The current suit says that “unlike a legitimate multi-level marketing business,” Nerium’s compensation plan emphasizes recruiting new “brand partners” (BPs) over the sale of products to consumers outside of the company. (Note to FTC: This is what all MLMs do. They ALL focus on recruiting, and the actual retail sales are pathetic for several reasons.) The FTC says the business model makes it unlikely that distributors can make money selling products in response to legitimate demand from third parties. Continue reading

AdvoCare Pyramid Scheme

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On Wednesday it was announced that AdvoCare and the FTC entered into a settlement which bars it from participating in any multi-level marketing (MLM) activities. AdvoCare will also give $150 million in consumer refunds.

The settlement comes after the FTC said AdvoCare was running an illegal pyramid scheme. There were allegations that the company “deceived consumers into believing they could earn significant income as distributors of its health and wellness products.”

There is interesting stuff in the complaint filed by the FTC: Continue reading

Ocrolus Software Review

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Ocrolus PerfectAudit SoftwareA few years ago, I reviewed data analysis software sold by Ocrolus called PerfectAudit. The software captures data, analyzes the data, and assists with fraud detection

Recently the company abandoned the Perfect Audit brand, and now just calls the product Ocrolus. The old website www.perfectaudit.com forwards to the Ocrolus website. PerfectAudit as a brand has essentially been scrubbed from the internet. This might correspond with a recent round of venture capital that was raised.

My unfavorable review of Ocrolus was met with requests from company representatives to remove it from my site. They were disappointed that my review of the Ocrolus software ranked well in Google searches.

Some improvements have been made to the Ocrolus investigative software, but some of my concerns are still valid. Have a look at my PerfectAudit software review if you want all the details, but here’s a summary of the concerns I still have: Continue reading

Top Earners in MLM Make Money Off the Backs of Others

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Do you think it’s only the “bad” people who do bad things in multi-level marketing? Those who frontload new recruits, dial for dollars at the end of the month (i.e. get people to order products they don’t need), talk only about their highest commission check, lie about how profitable the MLM is for them, or hide the debt they incurred via their MLM?

Unfortunately, these problems are systemic in multi-level marketing. These are the things that must be done to get to the upper levels and to stay there. What about those “national sales directors” or “diamond executives” or “founders sapphires”??? They’ve just done more frontloading and general deception. They all lie. It is how things are done in MLM.

Listen to this former Mary Kay sales director, who was only a step away from becoming an national sales director when she walked away. On ABC’s 20/20, she explained how her “success” was at the expense of other women.

Protecting Yourself From Real Estate Fraud

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No industry is immune to fraud schemes. Mortgage fraud and real estate fraud have been problems for a long time. Ups and downs in the real estate market can make developers desperate and may push them to engage in fraud in an attempt to keep their projects afloat.

Frauds related to real estate are often costly. The bigger the project, the more risk there is of fraud. What can those involved in real estate deals do to minimize their risk of fraud?

Use licensed professionals.
Whether we’re talking about a mortgage broker, a plumber, or a contractor, it is critical to do business with licensed professionals. The license itself doesn’t guarantee that the person is competent or ethical. But it provides at least a minimal level of confidence in the person or business. Consider the license to be a tool that weeds out the worst in the field.

Continue reading

Social Media Influencers and Fraud

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Promoting products and services via social media sites like Instagram and Facebook is big business. If you have hundreds of thousands (or millions!) of followers on Instagram, someone is probably willing to pay you to have you promote their products. There are lots of eyeballs looking at your posts, and that’s worth money. And so we call you a social media influencer.

But the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has rules about that.  If you’re promoting a product, it better be obvious to everyone that this is  the case.  More specifically, the FTC says:

In addition, the Guides say, if there’s a connection between an endorser and the marketer that consumers would not expect and it would affect how consumers evaluate the endorsement, that connection should be disclosed. For example, if an ad features an endorser who’s a relative or employee of the marketer, the ad is misleading unless the connection is made clear. The same is usually true if the endorser has been paid or given something of value to tout the product. The reason is obvious: Knowing about the connection is important information for anyone evaluating the endorsement.

And naturally, the rules are being ignored by lots of people. It is estimated that only about 25% of influencers are actually following the rules when it comes to sponsored content.

If someone is being paid to promote a product or service on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or some other social media site, they’re required to disclose it. If they don’t, that is fraud. Concealing the fact that a post is essentially advertising is dishonest because people may think you’re simply talking about something you like rather than talking about something you’re paid to talk about. Consumers need to know that you’re making a PAID endorsement.

Truth in Advertising (TINA) has been going after abusers of the rules, filing complaints with the FTC about this behavior. Sean “Diddy” Combs was on the receiving end of one of these complaints, and quickly deleted the hundreds of posts in question.

Keep an eye out for social media posts that seem to casually mention a product or service the celebrity uses. Chances are, the post has been paid for by someone and it’s nothing more than advertising.