Friday, October 20, 2017

MLM History: Weight Loss, DMCA Abuse, and Child Porn, Oh My

Weight loss industry is a 60 BILLION dollar business (2013 figure) and it's no surprise there are a lot of various unproven claims from companies that sell magic weight loss formulas, each with its own claims how its own secret ingredient can help you lose weight through some semi-plausible mechanism. Frankly, all of them are bull****. The more you diet and exercise, the more your body adjusts to counteract your efforts. Most of the contestants in "The Biggest Loser" gain back all the weight they lost in a few years, despite all attempts to keep off the weight.

Consumers are getting wise to the various weight loss woos, and the entire diet industry is seeing a slow down, no doubt helped along by magic claims such as "alternative" to gastric bypass surgery by simply swallowing something. That company is called Roca Labs.

To quote the FTC director of Bureau of Consumer Protection, "Roca Labs Has An Adversarial Relationship With The Truth". And that's only the beginning.  (for a complete list, see TechDirt's Roca Labs coverage)

They claimed their product has a 90 percent success rate. In fact, they conducted no trials or clinical studies with their own products.

They offer 50% discount to people who videotape their "success stories", but did not tell people to disclose that they were compensated for such stories.

They operated a website that showed dangers of gastric bypass, with a page that links to selling Roca Labs products, without disclosing they actually own and run the website.

They have a "gag clause" in their contract that if you buy their stuff, you are contractually prohibited from saying anything negative about them for ever and to anybody including review sites and even BBB. And they have sued such customers.

They also claim if you say bad things about them, they'll rescind any discounts you've been given and they'll sue you for the difference. (!)

They tried to sue to shut down negative comments left by members. (They lost)

They threaten to sue the witnesses at their trial for violating the unenforceable gag clause, in a clear case of witness tampering, threaten to sue the other party's expert witness and threatened him with criminal violations, as well as sue the other party's lawyer for statements made in court.

They tried to use DMCA takedown to hide criticism against them

They threaten to sue TechDirt (twice) for reporting on the above egregious behavior, including once from merely QUOTING the lawsuit.

They claimed their opposing lawyer had bribed a state senator into passing the anti-SLAPP law of Nevada which hindered their SLAPP lawsuit. (It was dismissed)

Sunday, October 15, 2017

If you are a victim in Ponzi scheme under receivership, you MUST file a claim BEFORE the deadline!

A lot of ponzi schemes were caught by authorities and assets seized so the victims can be repaid.

  • ZeekRewards Receivership has sent out hundreds of thousands of checks for hundreds of millions of dollars. All victims with allowable claims have received funds for at least 75% of their losses. 

This was a huge ponzi involving almost a billion dollars and a million victims. And this was one of the most successful repayments by the receivership.

But notice the term:  All victims with allowable claims

That means victims who filed all the proper paperwork proving the amount of their loss and other requirements.

Victims who did NOT file the paperwork will probably NOT get anything.  And one case that was adjudicated September 2017 illustrated this clearly.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Scam Tactics: Knowing the Differences among FDA Registered, FDA Certified, and FDA Approved

Recently, someone posted the following comment on BehindMLM

"Davie Watkins" claimed on 6-OCT-2017 that "FDA approved
Vida Divina's Coffee Line in October 2017"

Let's first examine, what did "Vida Divina" reps say about FDA? If you Google, you may find:

The search results says "FDA certified", or "FDA Approved". But what is the truth?
None of the actual results link to FDA, it's just announcements, and they can't even agree on the language. Some say "certified", some say "approved". What is the truth? As it turns out, it was NEITHER.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Scam Psychology: Why Scammed Victims Refused to Believe They've Been Scammed

As the #mlmskeptic, it is often sad to see how people turned absolutely illogical when it comes to money. We all like to believe we are rational creatures, capable of evaluating problems objectively. However, scientists have shown that our biases have far more hold on our processes than we think, and skepticism must be learned to combat those biases.

Let's take ZeekRewards for example. ZeekRewards is a convicted ponzi scheme that was closed in 2012 by US Secret Service and SEC.  You can learn more about Zeekrewards on Oz's website , or check my attempt to track the scam throughout 2012 until just as it closed.  But basically, even AFTER the scam was closed by the authories in October 2012, people CONTINUED to believe in the scam.  One of them even posted this note on the closed office window of Zeek:

"We forgive you / Please restructure and save our Dreams"
There are comments posted by conspiracy theorists who insisted that Zeek was closed for nefarious reasons, and Zeek cannot possibly be a Ponzi scheme.

Curt Miller: It was the SEC that slowed your growth, sorry. There were no victims until the government came around...
only 2 million happy affiliates. It was no ponzi and the program would NEVER have gone bankrupt. 
Basically, people are in denial. They refuse to believe they have been scammed. Instead, they behaved irrationally by spinning tales that fit their own biases.

Scientists have been studying this for a long time, and they now have more proof that we would rather believe in something that cost us $$$ rather than accept bad and unpleasant news.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

This looks familiar: SEC shuts down two ICOs (RECoin and DRC) for bogosity

Two days ago (September 29th, 2017) SEC shut down two companies ran by Maksim Zaslavskiy trying to promote ICOs, or initial coin offerings. Zaslavskiy claimed his cryptocurrencies are backed by Real Estate (REcoin) and Diamonds (DRC - Diamond Reserve Club/Coin). Turns out they are just bogus claims.

For those who track this sort of things, this is a virtually beat-for-beat clone of an earlier scam, Gemcoin, "backed by amber", shut down by SEC back in 2015.

Gemcoin was a fictional cryptocurrency released by USFIA based in Arcadia, California. Its head is Steve Chen (also known as Chen Li 陳力).  Chen ran 13 different entities that dabbled in MLM telecom, real estate, jewelry and gemstones, art imports, and so on, and also encouraged recruitment from inside China. In 2014, his latest scheme, American Mining 美洲礦業 collapsed in China leading to multiple arrests. American Mining also promised massive profits by investments in amber.

Steve Chen's final scheme, Gemcoin, is aimed at overseas Chinese ex-pats. It is supposedly a cryptocurrency like Bitcoin but backed by amber. It also claimed amber is very valuable and USFIA has exclusive mining rights and jewelry factory in the Dominican Republic. It had the backing of several local celebrities, including former mayor of Arcadia John Wuo. Steve Chen and his second, Leonard Johnson, ran investment seminars in multiple Chinatowns across North America, sometimes even dressing up his security guard, John Zhang, as a "jewelry appraiser".

When SEC finally shut down USFIA/Gemcoin in 2015, the scheme had taken in over 30 million dollars. John Wuo, who had endorsed Gemcoin, quickly resigned as city councilman "due to health reasons".  And the truth started coming out... The receiver who took over the company said there are no gem grade amber in storage, just regular 'souvenir' grade stuff. And the alleged contract for the mine doesn't exist either. It was all one huge hoax scam. 

When you go through the history of REcoin and DRC, you will find a familiar albeit accelerated pattern.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Less than 1/4 of all pyramid scheme victims ever file a complaint, says FTC survey

Some recent surfing brought me to an interesting bit of information:
...consumers who had purchased a [membership in] pyramid scheme were the least likely to complain – less than one-quarter indicated that they had complained. -- FTC fraud survey (2004)
This is a fascinating statistic. The FTC definition of pyramid scheme specifically means "pyramid marketing schemes", as in MLMs that went over to the dark side.

Here it is important to note that FTC questions were actually 1) Did you purchase an opportunity to operate (your) own business  2) Were you lead to believe most of the money earned from this business would be from recruiting others to join the business, rather than sale of products and 3) Were you deceived by the offer of business opportunity with false income claims or false offers of assistance?  (Not exact wording, but you can find the questions in the linked PDF)

It is worth noting that in MLM...

A) Almost all MLM claim you are "owning your own business", follow by a derisive attitude toward a job ("just over broke" is often uttered).

B) You almost always get some lecture that you are NOT in a pyramid scheme, yet you are told to "build your team", which is just euphemism for recruiting.

C) Many questionable "leaders" of MLMs will resort to false income claims and false offers of assistance to get you to join, then blame you for your failure. "You must be doing it wrong", they'll point fingers, "because it worked for me."

But there is a hidden statistic that is not obvious until you read the fine print...
... In conducting this test it was necessary to drop the government jobs and business opportunities categories because there are too few consumers who experienced these types of frauds to meet the necessary statistical properties to conduct a Chi-square test.
The "government jobs" fraud is victim paid for false promises of government jobs. And business opportunities... needs no introduction.

But think about it. If there are so few reported incidents for them to even calculate the odds of underreporting...

Either there are so few instances of fraud in business opportunities...

Or there are so many instances of underreporting in business opportunities that it's like an iceberg...

Let's consider a real ponzi case... Zeek Rewards.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Commentary: Is LuLaRoe eating its own tail?

Recently, multiple news outlets reported several disturbing reports that LuLaRoe is not only rescinding money back policies, but also threatening to sue a blogger critical of its operations to obtain information that it claimed were "proprietary".  This has raised questions about why would a company with claimed 80000 reps would turn on its reps like this.

First, multiple TV stations reported that local reps are worried when LuLaRoe rescinded its no-fee 100% money back and free return shipping policy, which has only been in effect for a month. Instead, reps are to use the regular return channel, which only return 90% of price, but also have to pay shipping.

According to reps, the inventory you get from LuLaRoe is like hitting a lottery, as you cannot specify designs, merely quantity and size. Similar to collectible card games. Certain rare patterns sell quickly at inflated prices on eBay or such, while the rest languish in rep's stock, until the rep either liquidate them on eBay and give up, or try to go through the buyback process. There are rumors that up to 4000 cases of refunds are pending, and people have been waiting for months

And unlike other MLMs, LuLaRoe's startup costs are extremely high, as much as 5500 dollars to start, and if rep can't sell them, often the advice one gets from rep's upline is "order more!"  Some reps claimed you need about 15000 in inventory and markup of over 40% to earn a profit. And if you get a bunch of duds from the factory order (remember, it's random), you will have to arrange a trade with a different rep... if you can find someone who wanted your duds and trade you something they considered duds.

One blog that exposed such practices, and other complaints about LuLaRoe from disgruntled customers and reps was Christina Hinks, better known as MommyGyver online. And after publishing many such complaints, including documents shared online by such, Hinks has been served with a "discovery petition" from LuLaRoe demanding that she...

...disclose the identity and contact information of potential defendants who have damaged LLR and its goodwill by providing Respondent with LLR's confidential and proprietary business information, information about LLR and its merchandise, and false, derogatory information regarding LLR, much of which respondent has posted on her blog,
The interesting thing is much of the information had already been shared online via various social media platforms.

LuLaRoe so far has yet to comment about this potential SLAPP suit, though they did respond to the change in return policy (which is technically against their own company policy that changes in return policy must be announced for 30 days before it can go into effect). LuLaRoe's statement claimed the policy was always 90% buyback. The "improved" 100% buyback and free shipping was merely a temporary "waiver".