By Jon Christian Ryter
March 8, 2006
For one year, from 1919 to 1920, Carlos "Charles" Ponzi was the go-to man as the Roaring 20s brought prosperity to the growing American middle class. Ponzi promised a 50% return and, for almost a year, he delivered on his promise. On July 29, 1920, when the federal government shut him down, Ponzi was collecting over $250 thousand a day from investors who believed he was the goose that could lay golden eggs�or stamps. On July 24 as the Boston Post was doing a puff piece on Ponzi the genius, the postal Inspectors were quietly investigating Ponzi the con man. As the postman was delivering hundreds of checks to Ponzi's Security Exchange Company on July 29, US postal inspectors were preparing to seize the mail addressed to Ponzi's office. When they did, Ponzi's house of cards collapsed.
That's a common ploy for the government when they decide they want to shut down an industry. They seize the assets of the targeted person. The government does this for two reasons. First, by seizing every asset the person possesses, it becomes difficult for him to hire a lawyer because, suddenly, he lacks the means to pay for one. Second, bunko investigations by the SEC or the FBI against multilevel marketing ventures are usually not only without merit when they begin, but generally no criminal or civil violations or complaints have been filed against the person targeted by any of the "investors" until the government freezes the company's assets.
In every multilevel civil or criminal prosecution that the government has engaged in recently, they begin by freezing or seizing the assets of the targeted company as quickly as a friendly judge will let them. From handling many multilevel prosecutions, the government knows that when the "investors" or "members" of the multilevel program are deprived of their scheduled payouts, they will be more inclined to file civil or criminal complaints. Once an actual complaint is filed, the State or federal government can file civil or criminal charges and close down the multilevel operation.
In the case of Charlotte, North Carolina autosurf entrepreneur Claris Johnson, the friendly federal court that shut her company down was in California. This tactic is legal if at least one person who filed a complaint against 12dailyPro or its parent, LifeClicks, LLC, lived in California. This textbook tactic is also used by class action lawyers to find friendly county courts in which local judges with no legal authority outside their own county assume national jurisdiction they do not constitutionally possess, and make decisions that are binding on businesses not only in other counties, but other States as well.
Furthermore, class action lawyers found that certain jurisdictions are more prone to award extravagant judgments in frivolous lawsuits that should never have been certified in the first place. In the case of 12dailyPro, it's very likely that when the jurisdiction for prosecution was sought, there were no actual complainants. The US postal inspectors very quietly began to investigate the autosurf industry, and specifically 12dailyPro long before Johnson discovered she was a target, and long before any of 12dailyPro members became disgruntled enough about the cash flow of Johnson's company to become a complainant.
Monthly payments to 12dailyPro's multilevel entrepreneurs went through credit card payment processor StormPay. When January's 12dailyPro disbursements were due, the amounts due each 12dailyPro recipient appeared on their StormPay statements, but the funds were unavailable. Around Feb 1, StormPay began freezing autosurf accounts�even those, according to published media reports, not under scrutiny by the SEC. StormPay's actions have thus far impacted at least 30 autosurf websites in spite of the fact that most of them are complying with the company's Terms of Service [TOS], and are not construed, by the SEC, to be in violation of federal or State securities laws.
StormPay issued the following statement to 12dailyPro account holders: "You are receiving this notice because of your recent involvement with 12dailyPro. The SEC has issued a standing order preventing chargebacks against those purchases/investments. Any customer requesting a chargeback or refund either through their credit card issuer or bank are in violation of the order. Specifically, users are prohibited from 'using self help (including, without limitation, initiating or processing chargebacks of any monies used to purchase or upgrade membership units in, or with, 12DP) or executing or issuing or causing the execution or issuance of any court attachment, subpoena, replevin, execution or other process for the purpose of impounding or taking possession of, or interfering, with. For a copy of the complete SEC order, [Read]"
Because StormPay seized every autosurf account in its system, 12dailyPro members were, with good reason, convinced that StormPay had arbitrarily seized their money. In point of fact, StormPay was likely ordered to freeze the 12dailyPro accounts by the court order served on them by the SEC on March 1.
But, given the opportunity to do so�without legal authority to seize the assets of the competitors of 12dailyPro and LifeClicks or StormPay's own StormClix�StormPay tossed the dice and froze its own system, claiming that a malfunction prevented their customers from accessing their StormPay accounts. Many of the assets frozen were from clients who were not involved in the autosurf business. When it denied service to its clients, StormPay issued a blanket statement in which it accused several of the autosurf websites of being ponzis, referencing Rule 17 of its own Terms of Service. Several autosurf sites complained that StormPay was refusing to release their money until they could prove they were not ponzis by proving the funds were "invested dollars" and fees from Peter that were being used to pay Paul.
Nightmarish messages shot back and forth on several autosurf blogs from angry StormPay account holders detailing frenzied reports that their personal accounts were being drained by StormPay with unauthorized chargebacks�effectively zeroing their balances. On HYIPForum.com as early as Feb. 6�three weeks before the SEC filed against 12dailyPro�account holders were complaining that StormPay was looting their accounts. "Why is StormPay punishing me?" asked one account holder from Etobicoke, Ontario. "I'm in Canada. I have had a StormPay account for years and just went there to check out my $3,000-plus account level. Got this message. WHAT IS GOING ON? My cable [email protected] is the biggest provider in Canada.. " Shown below was the message he saw when he tried to access his StormPay account: "The IP address you are connecting from is banned from accessing StormPay.com. If you are using a proxy IP address, please contact us at StormPay.com through your normal Internet provider."
Replying to him, an account holder from the United Kingdom, shot back: "It's goin' crazy. I'm in the UK and they're asking for a security question." A woman who lists herself as an "expert investor" from "West, by God, Virginia," also responded to the Canadian. "I hope your $3K will be there when you get reconnected. Not to freak you out, but many members monies have just disappeared. My friend just had $2,500 taken. No one knows where it's at."
In a March 2 e-mail to this website, another 12dailyPro member said: "The FBI, BBB and DCA are investigating SP due to illegal tampering of member accounts (mine included). They tried to access my bank account without authorization. I had to block them. Many people with thousands of dollars in their SP accounts came to find it missing...gone. StormPay did try to take money from me, but I blocked them. And then SP suspended by account because I had the unmitigated gall to stop them from stealing money from me. They did this on a large scale. Check out the story about SP in the Leaf Chronicle in Clarksville, TN�where SP is based." The e-mailer continued: "My credit card company did refund my money. They told me specifically they had hundreds of complaints against SP trying to access cards without authorization. StormPay is the culprit. PayPal still takes autosurfers. They just have stringent rules about surfs proving where their money comes from."
The Leaf-Chronicle reported on Feb. 11, 2006�17 days before the SEC moved to freeze the assets of LifeClicks and 12dailyPro�that "...[a]uditors were busy at StormPay Friday." Mark Hicks, the Leaf-Chronicle reporter noted that the FBI had requested files from the Better Business Bureau of Middle Tennessee concerning complaints about StormPay. StormPay officials Steve Girsky and John McConnell admitted that they froze the accounts of some 30,000 to 35,000 12dailyPro accounts after receiving complaints from other members that money they earned from 12dailyPro was not being sent to them.
StormPay said the last payouts received from 12dailyPro came on Jan. 8. While the comments made by Girsky and McConnell to the Leaf Chronicle implied the February payout, which should have been transferred to the pay processor in late January, was never received. Steven Carr, one of the attorneys representing Charis Johnson, said that he was negotiating with StormPay to release the money they froze, suggested that the February payout for 12dailyPro members had been received by StormPay before the end of January. Noell Tin, another Johnson lawyer, said StormPay is holding almost $50 million of 12dailyPro's money.
In another investigative article, the Leaf-Chronicle noted that StormPay had been reported to the Better Business Bureau 49 times for its failure to inform and follow-up with its customers when it suspends accounts, but more specifically, because it refused to release the funds of those accounts in a timely fashion. Consumer protection groups received 18,926 complaints and/or inquiries about the reliability of StormPay in one just week�between Feb. 1-7, 2006. Even if StormPay survives the collapse of 12dailyPro, its credibility will be eroded enough that PayPal and AlertPay will likely take most of its non-autosurf clients after the February freeze.
Anyway you look at it, even if StormPay and StormClix survive, there will be at least two major casualties�and perhaps 20 or 30 more�before the autosurf scandal ends with the bankruptcies of LifeClicks and 12dailyPro. When a queen falls, a king rises from the ashes. Even before the official collapse of Charis Johnson's 12dailyPro and LifeClicks, Michael Corcoran and Craig Garcia created its replacement�EasyDailyCash.com.
If its the intent of the SEC to use 12dailyPro to frighten would-be autosurf site operators, it won't happen. Not only is there a waiting list of entrepreneurs marking time to be the next 12dailyPro millionaire; there are 300 thousand multilevel marketing groupies standing in line for the big payout as the first tier members of a new pyramid.
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� 2006 Jon C. Ryter - All Rights
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Jon Christian Ryter is the pseudonym of a former newspaper reporter with the Parkersburg, WV Sentinel. He authored a syndicated newspaper column, Answers From The Bible, from the mid-1970s until 1985. Answers From The Bible was read weekly in many suburban markets in the United States.
Today, Jon is an advertising executive with the Washington Times. His website, www.jonchristianryter.com has helped him establish a network of mid-to senior-level Washington insiders who now provide him with a steady stream of material for use both in his books and in the investigative reports that are found on his website.
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