It’s Not an Investment Club, It’s a Pyramid Scheme

Standard

Have you seen these invitations to “join an investment club” on social media? They’re frauds. They’re scams. They’re not investment clubs. This is a typical pyramid scheme (also called Ponzi scheme).

Below is the scam being promoted by an attorney in Washington D.C. who has a pretty decent social media following. For weeks, she’s been posting screenshots like this:

Continue reading

One Minute Primer on Ponzi Schemes

Standard

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.

Spotting Red Flags of Investment Fraud (Ponzi Schemes)

Standard

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. Continue reading

Investigating Investment Frauds and Schemes

Standard

Despite the proliferation of information available about phony investment schemes and the dire warnings given regularly by news reporters, consumers continue to become victims of these scams on a regular basis. The perpetrators of investment schemes dream up stories explaining their unusually high rates of return on money, and people with money to invest with them.

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 such an investment is the answer to their money problems. Continue reading

Typical Red Flags of Ponzi Schemes

Standard

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: Continue reading

Ponzinomics: MLM Fraud and the FTC

Standard

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.

TelexFree: MLMs are Pyramid Schemes

Standard

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: Continue reading

Unraveling Ponzi Schemes

Standard

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. Continue reading

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

Standard

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. Continue reading