UPDATE: Club Asteria Now Said To Have 230,000 Members; ‘I Got Paid’ Posts Appear On Ponzi Boards; Press Releases Picked Up By Google News; Web Promos Stress ‘Passive’ Earnings
“[I]f this company doesn’t have sales, it’s not a viable company. Every company has to have sales that’s what makes this company work because the great business model, not because it has a lot of outside resources, but with that said we have a lot of things planned in the next weeks and months ahead. This will create lots more wealth for you.” — Federal prosecutors, quoting Golden Panda Ad Builder President Clarence Busby in August 2008 forfeiture complaint that seized $80 million in the ASD/Golden Panda Ponzi case.
“Our electronic wallet offered by our financial partners can make a great difference to you and your family. If you don’t utilize these programs and services and take advantage of everything that Club Asteria offers, you are not helping yourself. Our services are priceless — but only if you take advantage of them.
“We are privileged to work for you and we hope that you feel privileged to be part of our Club that is striving to make a real difference for you and the rest of the world. When the revenue sharing is announced each week, remember that we are doing our part to bring about the best services and products — you need to do your part as well to maintain the highest revenue sharing.” — Club Asteria announcement to members, April 2, 2011.
Members of Club Asteria, an online “opportunity” that trades on the name of the World Bank, purportedly issues member payments from Hong Kong and is promoted on Ponzi scheme and criminals’ forums as a “revenue sharing” business, now say that the club’s worldwide membership roster has swelled to more than 230,000.
A new wave of “I got paid” posts appeared on TalkGold and MoneyMakerGroup over the weekend, and promoter “manolo” announced that a “matching bonus” program had been extended through April. Separately, other Club Asteria members are seeking to drive business to the firm, which touts its relationship with offshore payment processors, by issuing press releases in multiple languages.
Google News has picked up a number of the releases in recent days, including one dated March 28 that touts a Miami-based promoter and claims “Club Asteria is exploding in every corner of the world.”
When clicked, a URL in the press release takes visitors to a text and audio pitch for Club Asteria. “Some members are making in excess of $20,000 US Dollars per month,” the promo claims in bold. Prospects who pay Club Asteria a fee of $20 to join as a “GOLD Member” are offered a coaching program that promises the “best tips and tricks that you WILL need to succeed with Club-Asteria!” according to the promo.
Google rejected an application by the PP Blog in June 2010 to become part of its Google News service. The PP Blog covers online fraud schemes and is written by a journalist with more than 20 years’ experience.
“[W]e’re unable to include it in Google News at this time,” Google advised the Blog. “We don’t include sites that are written and maintained by one individual.”
Some Club Asteria members say the company is based in the United States. Why payments purportedly are issued from Hong Kong is unclear.
Forum posts that declare “I got paid” have been associated with Ponzi schemes that spread virally on the Internet. Such schemes have used press releases to sanitize the business “opportunities,” and also have made use of “matching bonus” programs and offshore processors.
A March 30 sales pitch from a Club Asteria promoter claims the program “ia (sic) a basically (sic) Human Development Program.”
The pitch continues with an all-caps paragraph that purportedly defines what the program is not and includes 15 exclamation points.
“A CHANCE TO CREATE INCOME FOR LIFE…!!! YES…!!! INCOME FOR LIFE FINANCIAL FREEDOM…!!! CLUB ASTERIA EARN AND SHARE, NO SCAM, NO HYIP, NO PONZI, NO GET RICH QUICK SCHEME. EARN $ 400 EVERY WEEK FOR LIFE LONG. JUST A TRUE INVESTMENT AND A GREAT WAY TO EARN AND SHARE THE WEALTH WITH ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. RUN BY FORMER DIRECTOR OF THE WORLD BANK ANDREA LUCAS. NOW CLUB-ASTERIA IS PRELAUNCH PHASE. GET ON NOW TO GRAB PRELAUNCH OFFERS…!!! JOIN NOW…!!!”
Preemptive claims that emphasize what a program is not also have been associated with Ponzi schemes.
The World Bank said last month that it once employed a person named Andrea Lucas, but that she left her job as a department head in Washington, D.C., in December 1986, nearly 25 years ago. Lucas was not a member of the World Bank’s board of directors, as hundreds — and perhaps thousands — of promotions for Club Asteria have implied.
Some Club Asteria members have identified Lucas as a former World Bank “Vice president” and “Chairman.”
Although Club Asteria has been promoted as a “passive” investment opportunity in which customers would simply register, pay a fee and earn money from the efforts of others, Club Asteria now appears to be trying to distance itself from those claims — while keeping the “matching bonus” program intact.
Claims that members can make money passively by simply paying a fee and relying on Club Asteria to generate profits leads to questions about whether the company and its army of affiliates are selling unregistered securities as investment contracts. On March 17, the company said that members who registered for its program and paid a fee were in position to “help the people of Japan” after last month’s devastating earthquake.
About two weeks later, Club Asteria suggested that members were overselling the earnings program and making false claims.
“The revenue will go up or down depending on how many members actively take advantage of utilizing and/or selling any one of our programs or services,” Club Asteria said in an April 2 note on its website. “If anybody has told you something different, they are mistaken and incorrect. We share our revenue that is earned by our membership. There is no guarantee. It would be impossible to guarantee this.”
Club Asteria members earned a payout of 4.01 percent last week, according to “akledba,” who was posting on the MoneyMakerGroup Ponzi forum in 36-point type.
“Wow, that is great,” replied MoneyMakerGroup member “strosdegoz.”
“I didn’t realize it was higher than last week,” strosdegoz noted. Below the post was a link for a program called “Exotic FX,” which bills itself a “PRIVATE ASSET HAVEN.”
MoneyMakerGroup is referenced in U.S. federal court filings as a place from which the alleged Pathway to Prosperity and Legisi Ponzi schemes were promoted. The schemes gathered more than $140 million, according to court filings.
Club Asteria did not say how much money it had collected as a result of purported misrepresentations by members or how members could be assured that the firm’s money stream was free of Ponzi and scam proceeds. The company does not publish verifiable financial data. Because the “opportunity” is being promoted on well-known Ponzi forums, it is possible that serial fraudsters have polluted Club Asteria’s revenue stream with proceeds from autosurf fraud schemes, HYIP fraud schemes, MLM fraud schemes, Forex fraud schemes, “arbitrage” fraud schemes and other forms of online fraud.
“Matching bonus” programs have been one of the hallmarks of online Ponzi schemes, some of which swelled to victimize tens of thousands of participants. AdSurfDaily, an “autosurf” firm that also was promoted on the Ponzi boards, routinely used matching bonuses to attract prospects. ASD’s membership ranks swelled to 120,000, according to promos for the firm, which now is accused of operating an international Ponzi scheme that gathered at least $110 million.
In 2009, a firm known as AdViewGlobal (AVG), which is said to have recruited 20,000 members in only weeks after the seizure of ASD-related assets, also used matching bonuses. One promoter claimed that $5,000 sent to AVG turned into $15,000 “instantly.” AVG also was promoted on the Ponzi boards.
AVG collapsed in June 2009. Private attorneys suing ASD President Andy Bowdoin in a racketeering case have referenced AVG in court filings. Federal prosecutors who brought both civil and criminal charges against ASD have made veiled references to AVG in court filings.
Recent promos for Club Asteria have made claims such as these (below): (NOTE: These are verbatim and are from multipe websites, all of which could be driving money to Club Asteria.)
- “Earn a realistic $400 a week… PASSIVELY!”
- “Discover How You Can Earn $400 Per Week Passively With No Sponsoring Requirement And How To Make Money Starting Now!”
- “We help you become financially secure, YOU help others become financially free. We are restoring balance of financial equality.”
- “Join Our TEAM and Earn $400 weekly for $20”
- “Club Asteria” A site of “World Bank’s former Vice president Andrea Lucas”
- “We all can be millionaires in 2 years if we can afford to invest N15,300 ($100). Thanks to ANDREA LUCAS, a former World Bank Director who established the investment outfit, CLUB ASTERIA.” (Continued below graphic.)
- “Be 100% passive and still earn $400 weekly from Real/Legal/Safe Co.”
- “Hi, club Asteria is founded by former world bank Chairman. running in 141 countries worldwide,21 years experience,its main aim is to eradicate poverty by giving micro-loans.If u pays $20 monthly for life-long by taking gold membership,you earn weakly $400 for lifelong from 19 th Month.No-referrals.But,If u refer one member, U get $9 monthly for lifelong.”