TelexFree, An Alleged Pyramid Scheme, Promotes Itself During Probes By Wrapping Logos Of Local Fox, CBS, ABC, NBC Affiliates Into Video
In this article:
- In its role as a watchdog for consumers, the FTC has sued third-party companies and individuals who have published the logos of prominent news agencies and falsely traded on their trusted identities to sanitize a purported product or opportunity. (See screen shot of Evidence Exhibit from one FTC case below.)
- In a new video promo announcing it somehow has gained 550,000 new American customers in less than a month during a probe into its business practices, TelexFree is publishing the logos of 18 prominent media firms, including logos of local-market affiliates of major American TV networks. In certain instances, the logos of the so-called “mother ships” — media parent firms or brand/content licensors of the local affiliates — appear in the TelexFree promo. This could prove to be an epic blunder.
- The move by TelexFree occurs on heels of SEC allegations that a Ponzi/pyramid scam known as WCM777 traded on the names of famous brands outside of media.
- On Feb. 28, the Massachusetts Securities Division confirmed it was investigating TelexFree. The agency earlier gave WCM777 the boot.
- Hong Kong may be emerging as a hotbed of MLM fraud.
- TelexFree goes to Hong Kong.
- Does anyone in TelexFree’s MLM leadership have a clue — we mean, Freaking Clue One?
- More . . .
UPDATED 10:51 A.M. EDT (U.S.A.) Be skeptical of “programs” that imply media ties or suggest media vetting or an endorsement by the media or a famous company in another discipline, including high finance. Brand-leeching “works,” which is why so many fraudulent companies adopt it as a strategy.
On the “we’ve-been-endorsed-by-the-media” fraud front, several instances of this have occurred. In both 2011 and 2012, the blood-sucking, $850 million Zeek Rewards Ponzi scheme pretended that puff pieces about it that appeared in Network Marketing Business Journal constituted real news. Zeek’s court-appointed receiver later auctioned off the puff pieces and the impressive-looking plaques to which they’d been attached.
Zeek and many of its affiliates preferred fantasy constructions. Put another way, they weren’t all that keen on paying attention to actual news occurring in the direct-sales sphere. In April 2011, for example, the Federal Trade Commission brought actions against several alleged scammers pushing acai weight-loss products and making deceptive claims. Among other things, the FTC alleged that the Internet-based hucksters created fake news sites and often used “the names and logos of major media outlets” such as “ABC, Fox News, CBS, CNN, USA Today, and Consumer Reports” to plant the seed the products had the backing of the brands and had been vetted approvingly by reporters.
As the PP Blog wrote in an Editor’s Note at the time (italics added): If this federal and state action doesn’t get the attention of the out-of-control, direct-sales crowd that divines itself the right to plant the seed that an “offer” is endorsed by famous companies and people, well, perhaps nothing will. Even as this story is being written, affiliates of Club Asteria, a purported “passive” investment company, are planting the seed that the firm is endorsed by Google, Yahoo, MSN and America Online. Club Asteria promoters also routinely trade on the name of the World Bank. Club Asteria is being pitched on forums populated by serial Ponzi scheme promoters.
Club Asteria, which had a presence on the Ponzi boards and purportedly had a satellite operation in Hong Kong, had roots in the cash-gifting fraud sphere and planted the seed it provided a return of at least 3 percent a week. It stopped making weekly interest payments to affiliate-investors before 2011 had come to a close.
Flash forward to April 2014, three years to the month after the FTC brought the acai fraud cases against direct-selling companies and individuals using the names and logos of famous media brands. Indeed, on April 5, a new pitch by the TelexFree MLM “program” began appearing in video form online.
And indeed it uses the logos of a whopping 18 media companies famous in local markets. And because some of those locally famous brands also incorporate the logos of their even more famous parent brands or licensors, TelexFree potentially could be risking the wrath of the upstream mother ships, too.
Like Club Asteria, TelexFree has an affiliate presence on the Ponzi boards. Also like Club Asteria, TelexFree has wildly enthusiastic pitchmen who claim the “program” provides preposterous, “passive” returns. (The TelexFree promo referenced in this report by the PP Blog first was noted by a TelexFree skeptic and reader of BehindMLM.com, a site that covers emerging MLM schemes.)
At approximately the 4:55 mark in the April 5 TelexFree video, the logos of local television stations — including affiliates of Fox, NBC, ABC and CBS — begin rolling on the screen. (The logo of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the biggest newspaper in Nevada, also rolls on the screen.)
Says TelexFree executive Steve Labriola, while continuing to narrate the video after complaining about Bloggers who are negative on the company:
“But let me tell you what is out there that you haven’t quite seen yet: media that’s talking positive about us. There are articles. There are things out there that you’re gonna have in your back office that you can print, you can read, you can use as a tool within the next few days. These are all media articles that are talking great things about your company. So, we’re excited about that. We’re excited that you can be excited about that. It’s all good news. It’s all reprinted. And it’s all available for you.”
What are these “media articles” to which Labriola refers while logos of local affiliates of the major broadcast networks and the logo of a major American newspaper roll in the background?
Well, unless the media firms published any other “great things” about TelexFree, they’re puff pieces TelexFree itself submitted via one or more PR wires. In instances we observed, several local broadcast affiliates of the major networks republished TelexFree-authored content — but not before slapping on a disclaimer. To see an example of the disclaimer we observed, visit the website of News9.com (KWTV-DT as a broadcast channel), a CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City. From the station’s website (italics added):
Information contained on this page is provided by an independent third-party content provider. WorldNow and this Station make no warranties or representations in connection therewith. If you have any questions or comments about this page please contact [deleted by PP Blog]
You’ll see the same disclaimer at KTEN.com, the website of an NBC affiliate in Denison, Texas, that covers parts of Oklahoma. (KTEN’s logo, which incorporates NBC’s famous “peacock,” is the first to roll in the TelexFree promo.)
In yet another example, a disclaimer appears at the website of KTRE, an ABC affiliate in Pollok, Texas. Other channels or newspapers that might have published TelexFree’s PR talking points also likely added disclaimers or attributions to TelexFree, so readers would make a distinction between actual news content and verbatim PR puff.
Labriola doesn’t mention the disclaimers as famous logos roll in the background. The audience easily could conclude that each of the news outlets whose logos are reproduced had published objective reports about TelexFree and championed the company.
With all things possible in the HYIP sphere, we’re wondering if TelexFree affiliates soon will start whipping those republished PR releases into endorsements of TelexFree by major media firms locally and nationally. After all, some TelexFree affiliates have planted the seed the “program” is endorsed by the SEC and is backed by President Obama.
Earlier in the video, Labriola claimed, “Since March 9, since our compensation plan has changed, we have 550,000 new customers in [the] U.S.A. alone. And remember, we’re a global business.”
Whether those talking points later will end up in videos or print material that displays the logos of well-known media companies is, for now, unknown. The stage nevertheless has been set for disingenuous MLM constructions of all sorts, including hypothetical (as of now) constructions such as this one: “according to [Famous Media Company A], TelexFree is in a stunning growth phase that has seen more than 550,000 new American small-business customers enlist since March 9 alone. Because TelexFree is a worldwide phenomenon, tens of millions of customers are destined soon to be in the fold.”
And what about proof? Well, just wrap the logo of a famous media brand around the claim.
This won’t go well if this is TelexFree’s new media strategy.
Branding concerns aside, the practical reality remains that how TelexFree is defining “customers,” like Zeek before it, is far from clear. Beyond that, current TelexFree affiliates are complaining publicly about not getting paid after the company changed its compensation system.
In the video promo with the media logos, Labriola goes on to note that “I just came back from a Hong Kong trip.” Whether that trip had anything to do with an asserted March 26 TelexFree “conference” in Hong Kong wasn’t explained.
Hong Kong may be emerging as a hotbed of MLM HYIP fraud. For instance, it is a venue in which Club Asteria claimed a presence and also a venue in which a “program” known as “Better-Living Global Marketing” purportedly conducts business. (See reference and related links here.)
In addition, Hong Kong is referenced in the SEC’s Ponzi- and pyramid case last month against WCM777, an alleged $65 million fraud scheme. Hong Kong also is referenced in the SEC’s fraud complaint last month against an entity known as “Mutual Wealth.”
In October 2013, the SEC alleged that enterprises known as CKB and CKB168 were “at the center” of a worldwide pyramid scheme that allegedly featured a purported office in Hong Kong and operations in Canada, the British Virgin Islands and the United States.
TelexFree, alleged in Brazil to be a pyramid scheme, is under investigation by the Massachusetts Securities Division. Some affiliates are deeply concerned about changes in the TelexFree compensation scheme that appear to have dried up or negated payments to them. These affiliates packed themselves like sardines into the “program’s” office in Greater Boston last week. Police were called to the scene.
Just four days after TelexFree affiliates jammed the TelexFree office, the Labriola video with rolling media logos, claims of hundreds of thousands of new customers and the reference to Hong Kong appeared on YouTube. Whether TelexFree has opened new can of worms remains to be seen.
What’s been clear for months is that TelexFree has no cohesive message and throws just about anything against the wall, including rants at prosecutors by a Brazil-based executive while investigations in that country are under way.
A maxim sometimes attributed to Mark Twain and often cited by PR companies and politicians goes like this: “Don’t pick fights with people who buy ink by the barrel.”
To that, we’ll add that it’s also not prudent to tempt fate with media companies that buy bandwidth by the terabyte and employ note-taking reporters and editors and videographers who take spectacularly detailed footage.
This Blog has grave doubts that any of the media firms whose logos appear in the TelexFree promo will be pleased. Their own names could be sullied. If those logos start appearing on marketing materials and plaques, well, hang on to them. They could become the same type of souvenirs the Zeek receiver sold to raise money for victims.
One of the issues in the SEC’s case against WCM777, of course, was the alleged republication of famous logos (nonmedia) and the namedropping of famous companies (nonmedia) to sanitize the alleged WCM777 fraud scheme.
Is any famous company, be it nonmedia or media, safe from MLM hucksters on the Internet? The answer is probably no, given that the vultures apparently think nothing of swiping the brands of government agencies and even of the President of the United States to advance their schemes.
Why TelexFree has ventured down the minefield-laden path of publishing logos of locally or nationally famous brands is truly baffling, especially given the nature of the allegations in the WCM777 case and the fact TelexFree itself already is under investigation.
This circumstance reminded us not only of the Zeek debacle and the SEC’s WCM777 case and the FTC’s acai-berry cases, but also of efforts by the AdViewGlobal Ponzi schemers in 2009 to use an in-house puff piece distributed on PR wires to plant the seed the 1-percent-a-day “program” was endorsed by Forbes magazine, the Washington Business Journal and The Business Review.
Prior to the filing of the SEC’s fraud complaint against WCM777, some apparent cheerleaders for the firm tried to plant the seed that the “program” had been vetted favorably by Yahoo Finance and the Wall Street Journal. One individual tried to drop both famous names at BehindMLM.com, a site that covers emerging MLM schemes.
BehindMLM’s negative coverage of WCM777 was “real non-sense,” the critic asserted on Oct. 11, 2013, pointing to a purported favorable story on WCM777 in the Wall Street Journal. That “story” proved to be a PR puff piece republished with a disclaimer at WSJ.com.
“The Wall Street Journal news department was not involved in the creation of this content,” the disclaimer read.
But with the purported Wall Street Journal “story” in his hip pocket, the WCM777 “supporter” and BehindMLM critic asserted, “I will make the most of it to my enemies’ disgust!” (See this story and Comments thread at BehindMLM.com.)
The SEC was in federal court about five months later, alleging that WCM777 had targeted a massive fraud scheme at Asians and Latinos and had caused the logos of famous brands to be republished as part of a bid to sanitize the $65 million scam.
Honestly, does anyone in TelexFree’s MLM leadership these days have a clue — we mean, Freaking Clue One?