SPECIAL REPORT: eAdGear ‘Program’ Allegedly Traded Falsely On Names Of Famous Companies And Brands; SEC Contacted Google, Yahoo, Target, Victoria’s Secret (And More) To Refute Claims; Separately, ‘Bossteam’ Enterprise In Canada Operated In Similar Fashion, Records Show
EDITOR’S NOTE: eAdGear, which had entities in California and Hong Kong, “primarily” targeted “investors in the U.S., China, and Taiwan” and gathered $129 million in a combined pyramid- and Ponzi scheme that engaged in brand-leeching, the SEC alleged last week. An MLM scam known as WCM777, which allegedly gathered more than $80 million, also engaged in brand-leeching while targeting Asian communities, according to court filings. The SEC sued WCM777 in March 2014. Among the SEC’s alarming allegations against WCM777 was that it planted a false seed that it had partnerships “with more than 700 major companies such as Siemens, Denny’s, and Goldman Sachs.”
UPDATED 3:14 P.M. EDT SEPT 29 U.S.A. Irrespective of their primary target audiences and whether their promos are in English, Chinese or another language, HYIPs and investment-fraud schemes often trade fraudulently on the names of famous companies and engage in brand-leeching to create a veneer of legitimacy. In 2008, for example, the purported AdSurfDaily advertising “program” falsely traded on the names of then-U.S. President George W. Bush, Google, Kodak, Pepsi, Macy’s, USA Today, NBC and many more.
“This new approach to Internet advertising has businesses of all sizes, from small home based businesses to large corporations such as Google, Starbucks, Kodak, etc., joining ASD,” a 2008 promo for ASD read. “Not only are there over 75,000 small businesses advertising with ASD, but now major corporations are as well. Remember, a part of the daily rebate comes from the revenue corporations pay to advertise with ASD.”
It was all a crock. The U.S. Secret Service, which opened an undercover probe in July 2008, went on describe ASD as a “criminal enterprise.” ASD President Andy Bowdoin was convicted of wire fraud in the ASD Ponzi case. He is serving a lengthy term in federal prison.
Even while it was operating, ASD talked about a nascent “Chinese” arm known as Golden Panda Ad Builder. In retrospect, it now appears that plans to involve Asian populations in HYIP schemes were well under way at least by 2008 and since have evolved into frauds that were even larger than ASD. (ASD gathered $119 million and has been eclipsed in dollar volume by at least three Internet-based investment scams since then: TelexFree (possibly $1.2 billion); Zeek Rewards (c. $850 million); and eAdGear ($129 million). Falling just short of making this list were Zhunrize (allegedly $105 million) and WCM777 (allegedly $80 million). It is clear from court filings that Zeek also had a presence in Asian communities.)
There also was a tertiary scam inside the ASD scam. Indeed, promos for an entity known as ASD Offer Universe encouraged members to click on Google ads so ASD would earn fees of up to $5 a click. Here’s now that promo began (italics added):
“ASD ENTERS INTO AGREEMENT WITH GOOGLE FOR NEW CONSUMER SITE. Months ahead of schedule, Google and ASD Offer Universe are now teaming up to show Google ads on the site. Google, after seeing all of the major advertisers already being shown on ASD Offer Universe agreed to enter into a relationship with ASD.”
Brand-leeching is a form of “reputation parasitism.”
Did the eAdGear “program” channel long-ago events at ASD to help its massive pyramid scheme grow?
ASD was a purported “advertising” firm that operated a “rotator.”
Let’s compare what happened at ASD in 2008 to what the SEC now says happened at eAdGear, accused by the agency last week of operating a $129 million pyramid- and Ponzi scheme and positioning itself as an advertising company and an SEO firm.
By at least March 2014, the SEC says in court filings, investigators learned of a promo for eAdGear that read, “Google and Yahoo are partnering up with eAdGear for SEO services!!”
In the land of serial promoters of MLM or direct-sales HYIP scams, it’s as though the ASD case never happened.
The name-dropping and toxic disingenuousness associated with eAdGear hardly were limited to the abuse of the names of Google and Yahoo, according to SEC exhibits filed in the eAdGear case. It appears there were at least 253 incidents of brand-leeching associated with eAdGear. Indeed, eAdGear appears to have planned its ascent to the upper echelon of the fraud sphere by deliberately placing bogus ads for famous companies into its ad “rotator” to create a false sense that its “program” was legitimate.
Target Corp., the famous retailer, had its brand leeched, the SEC alleged. So did Lbrands, the Columbus, Ohio-based company that owns Victoria’s Secret
Now, let’s look at some of the behind-the-scenes investigative work performed by the SEC. Court filings by the agency show that, on July 1, 2014, the SEC issued a subpoena to Yahoo to check on the eAdGear-associated claims.
Yahoo responded on July 10 by advising the SEC that it had “identified no contracts or agreements with eAdGear.”
Meanwhile, according to court filings, the SEC made an inquiry at Google on June 30. Google responded on July 22, advising the agency that it “is not aware of any commercial relationship between [eAdGear] and Google.”
Because ads for famous companies, including Target, Gap Inc. and Victoria’s Secret, had appeared in the eAdGear “rotator,” the SEC contacted those companies. (The response by L Brands Inc., owners of Victoria’s Secret, is shown above.)
Target responded by searching its database of vendors to which it had issued payments. No records surfaced for eAdGear, according to the SEC. Gap, similarly, informed the SEC that it had no record of doing business with eAdGear.
What else does the SEC have? Well, according to court records, it has internal eAdGear email correspondence that shows an employee was instructed to place 253 links to famous companies in its rotator.
These companies included Avon, Sears, Nordstrom, eBay, QVC, HSN, J.C. Penney, Banana Republic, Dillard’s, Kohl’s, Macy’s, Amazon.com, Men’s Wearhouse, Kmart, New York magazine and more.
Finally, let’s compare the SEC allegations to the August 2014 findings of the British Columbia Securities Commission concerning a “program” known as “Bossteam” that became the subject of a 2012 Ponzi warning in Canada.
These are among BCSC’s assertions — under a subheading titled “False impression of paid advertisements and advertising revenue”:
- Bossteam described itself on its websites, in documents and in presentations as an online advertising business having huge growth potential and ready to become a leading global online advertising company. It referred to well-known online businesses such as Google, Amazon and eBay, and to the fast-growing advertising revenues of these businesses.
- Although hundreds of “ads” appeared on the advertising platforms, the majority of the ads posted on Bossteam’s websites were associated with Bossteam’s own administrative accounts (accounts accessible by those controlling its systems) and not to accounts for advertisers or members who had paid to post links to their websites on Bossteam’s websites.
- Ads associated with Bossteam’s administrative accounts included webpages for well-known local and international businesses.
- Local businesses whose webpages appeared on Bossteam’s websites included a restaurant, a security systems company, a heating company and a private career college. Websites of well-known businesses and personalities included World Wrestling Entertainment, Miriam Webster and Britney Spears.
Posting the websites of local and international businesses on Bossteam’s websites without payment created a false impression that such businesses were advertising on Bossteam’s websites and paying Bossteam to do so.
Because Bossteam and eAdgear were similar businesses and appear largely to have targeted members of the Asian community, one has to wonder whether the schemes had promoters in common. For now, at least, the answer is unclear. What is clear is that some promoters simply move from one fraud scheme to an another when the “program” of the moment craters or encounters regulatory scrutiny.
Serial HYIP huckster and Zeek figure T. LeMont Silver currently is in name-dropping overdrive for BitClub Network, one of his latest “programs.” Silver’s name has surfaced in private lawsuits involving eAdGear and an interconnected enterprise known as Go Fun Places, which is referenced in the SEC’s eAdGear case. (For one instance, see the reference to Go Fun Places within the letter from L Brands to the SEC in the graphic above.)
NOTE: Our thanks to the ASD Updates Blog.