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The Answer Guy: Sniffing out a possible scam

Time:2018-04-20 05:02Turbochargers information Click:

Possible Answer scam Sniffing

NEW YORK (Money) -- Question: I'm a 60-year-old male with about three years until retirement. Someone at work recently recommended I put some money into a company called Legisi.com - not an investment, but a loan. I wonder if you are familiar with this. - Name Withheld, Bayside, N.Y.

Answer Guy had never heard of Legisi.com before your letter, and the company doesn't disclose a lot of information about itself on its Web site.

 
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But the little information that the company makes available is enough to make Answer Guy tell you this: Don't put any money into it. Please. Really. For the sake of your retirement.

Legisi, according to its Web site, is a company to which you can lend money in relatively small amounts (as little as $1,000 at a time), and which says it pays back at least 10 percent per month in interest. That's a whopping amount of money, especially in light of the fact that a high-yield corporate bond mutual fund currently yields only 7 percent per year.

So what's not to like about Legisi? Plenty. The problem is that such a return on this kind of loan seems too good to be true. Ask yourself: Why would a company need to pay that much in interest to borrow some cash? If any schmo can get a credit card charging 14 percent annual interest, why would a reasonable company operated by reasonable people want to pay lenders ten times that amount? And what is the company doing with the money anyway?

Answer Guy doesn't know, and Legisi isn't telling him. A.G. left several voice and e-mail messages last week for Legisi.com "boss" Greg McKnight, who - the Web site says - is based in Flint, Mich. But last Friday, his assistant said that McKnight, who had done interviews in the past that hadn't been well-received, wasn't interested in doing this one.

So A.G. sought the opinion of Joe Borg, director of the Alabama Securities Commission and president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, an organization of state and provincial securities regulators. After studying Legisi.com's Web site, Borg said, "This is suspicious, and I'd recommend any investor stay away from it." He adds, "It has signs of other organizations that have ended up being Ponzi or pyramid schemes."

A Ponzi or pyramid scheme is a type of fraud in which early investors enjoy magnificent returns - chiefly because they're paid off by money pouring in from subsequent investors who have heard about the serious cash that earlier investors are making. Eventually, the scheme always collapses and most investors lose everything.

So what do Legisi and known Ponzi schemes have in common, according to Borg?

Legisi promises lofty returns. "They're offering ridiculously high interest rates that you cannot get in any legitimate market," said Borg.

Legisi requests that people lend it money via the Web sites e-gold.com or e-Bullion.com, two Internet payment systems said to be backed by gold. Scammers in the past, said Borg, have requested alternate forms of payment in attempts to avoid mail fraud charges and to make money harder to trace. (On Tuesday, Legisi's Web site said it was "temporarily" not accepting funds from e-gold.)

The parent company is said to be based on the Caribbean island of Nevis. Although there are legitimate businesses in Nevis, said Borg, to sell securities to a U.S. state resident they still must be licensed. Very few - if any - are, said Borg. "The safety net of securities regulation is not present off shore," said Borg.

Legisi pays referral fees of 5 percent, but only to members who have invested their own money. "A lot of Ponzi and pyramid schemes will require you to be a member before you can get referral fees," said Borg. That gives people a greater incentive to keep the scams going, he said: "You're tied to the organization. Psychologically, you're part of the group."

Legisi demands that account holders promise they are not an informant or associated with such government organizations as the IRS, FBI, CIA or "The Intelligence Services of Great Britain." Such requests, said Borg, are common to international "prime bank" and foreign currency exchange schemes. "It's done to psychologically intimidate folks into thinking they have some liability if they complain to authorities, under the theory they could be sued for damages," said Borg. "As a practical matter, that never happens."

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