BULLETIN: SEC Gains Asset Freeze, Seeks Shutdown Of Imperia Invest In Emergency Action; Program Pitched On Same Ponzi Forums Promoting MPB Today; Agency Says Imperia Defrauded Thousands Of Deaf Americans
BULLETIN UPDATED 5:02 P.M. EDT (U.S.A.): The SEC has gone to federal court in Utah to halt the operations of Imperia Invest IBC, alleging a spectacular fraud that fleeced money from thousands of Americans with hearing impairments.
Imperia was promoted from the MoneyMakerGroup Ponzi forum — one of the Ponzi forums promoting the MPB Today “grocery” MLM. Imperia also was the topic of discussion and defenses on TalkGold and ASAMonitor, two other forums that are pitching MPB Today.
The SEC’s allegations against Imperia are stunning. More than 14,000 investors were defrauded worldwide, the agency said.
Among the victims were thousands of deaf investors in the United States, the SEC said.
Imperia gathered relatively small sums from thousands of people, the SEC charged, noting that “no evidence has been found that any of the investors have received a single payment.”
“Imperia Invest IBC is a web-based entity that claimed, until late 2009, to be located in the Bahamas,” the SEC charged. “The Bahamian address listed by Imperia is fictitious. Imperia now claims to be located in Vanuatu. However, Imperia is not registered to do business in Vanuatu and the address listed on its website appears also to be fictitious. Neither Imperia nor its securities are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Imperia is not licensed or registered with the Commission, with any state, or with any Self Regulatory Organization.”
Categorically absurd representations of earnings and the program’s potential were made to investors, the SEC said.
“Investors were promised eye-popping amounts of money in return for a simple $50 or $100 investment, and Imperia has made numerous excuses on its website about why these returns haven’t been paid,” said Ken Israel, director of the SEC’s Salt Lake Regional office.
“The Imperia website shows an example of such earnings in which a $50 investment will return $134,000 to the investor in six months,” the SEC charged. At the same time, the agency said some investors were told that spectacular sums were due them for doing business with Imperia.
“Imperia represented to one investor who invested $150.00 with Imperia that Imperia owed him $36,610,755.20 within a two year time frame,” the SEC charged. “Another individual’s account statement who invested $500 in July 2007 showed he is owed $43,907,652.20 as of May 2010.”
It was not immediately clear how so many deaf investors became involved in Imperia. A federal judge has approved an asset freeze.
Imperia called its product Traded Endowment Policies (TEP), which the SEC described as “the British term for viatical settlements.”
“A TEP or viatical settlement involves the sale of an insurance policy by the policy owner before the policy matures, and policies are sold at a discount from face value in an amount greater than the current cash surrender value,” the SEC said.
“There are at least 14,000 [Imperia] investors worldwide with a total investment exceeding $7 million,” the SEC said. “In the United States, there appear to be approximately 6,000 investors, most of whom belong the hearing impaired community, who have invested in excess of $4 million with Imperia.”
Imperia used offshore payment processors such as “Liberty Reserve, located in Costa Rica; Perfect Money, located in Panama; and Procurrex, located in the British Virgin Islands,” the SEC charged. “Once Imperia received funds from Investors, it appears that Imperia then transferred amounts from these accounts to foreign bank accounts, including but not limited to accounts located in Cyprus and New Zealand.”
Even as Imperia was ripping off investors, it also was infringing trademarks and the intellectual property of Visa, the credit-card service, the SEC charged..
“Imperia also requires that investors purchase a Visa debit card to access their investment proceeds,” the SEC said. “Imperia charges customers a fee to purchase the Visa debit card ranging from $145 to $450.
“Visa has not authorized Imperia to use its name or trademarks and has sent Imperia a cease-and-desist letter to halt its unauthorized use of the Visa name and logo,” the SEC said. “There is no evidence that any investor who has ordered a Visa debit card from Imperia has actually received such a card.”
One poster on the MoneyMakerGroup forum advised prospects that he would keep an “open mind” about Imperia, according to web records.
“Anyway, in the final analysis each person must make their own decision,” the poster said in 2007.
While the MoneyMakerGroup poster was holding forth about keeping an “open mind,” Imperia was cloaking itself to siphon millions of dollars, according to web records and court records.
“Imperia took proactive steps to conceal the identity of its control persons by using an anonymous browser to host its website, by communicating with all investors via email without disclosing the identity of any control persons and by establishing off-shore Paypal-style bank accounts to conceal the recipient of the investment proceeds,” the SEC charged.
In July, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority issued a warning about HYIP schemes pitched online. In May, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service accused an HYIP known as Pathway To Prosperity of defrauding more than 40,000 people in a scheme that took in about $70 million.
Pathway To Prosperity also was promoted on the Ponzi and criminals’ forums. ASAMonitor, TalkGold and MoneyMakerGroup are specifically referenced in court filings in the Pathway to Prosperity case.
MoneyMakerGroup is specifically referenced in court documents in the alleged Legisi HYIP and Ponzi scheme, a fraud that allegedly gathered more than $70 million.
Read the SEC complaint against Imperia.