SALT LAKE CITY (CN) - An unlicensed Web-based business purporting to invest in traded insurance policies defrauded victims of more than $7 million - including $4 million from about "6,000 deaf investors" in the United States, the SEC said. "No evidence has been found that any of the investors have received a single payment" from Imperia Invest IBC, the SEC said in its federal complaint.
Imperia operated by having its investors buy bogus Visa debit cards and transfer money through foreign "Pay Pal-like accounts," the SEC said.
Imperia "at various times claims either to be based in the Bahamas or in Vanuatu," the SEC said. But the addresses it listed in both countries are "fictitious."
It promised 1.2 percent daily return on investments of $50 or more.
It scooped up its money through "Pay Pal-like accounts in Costa Rica, Panama and the British Virgin Islands, among other countries," and then "transferred from these accounts to additional foreign bank accounts, including accounts located in Cyprus and New Zealand," according to the complaint.
Investors were told to check their accounts through Imperia's website. But the "account statements show outrageous and unrealistic returns," the SEC said: "Imperia represented to one investor who invested $150 with Imperia that Imperia owed him $36,610,755.20 within a two-year time frame. Another individual's account statement who invested $500 in July 2007 showed he is owed $43,907,652.20 as of May 2010."
Imperia "requires that investors purchase a Visa debit card to access their investment proceeds" at a cost of $145 to $450 per card, the complaint states. However, "Visa has not authorized Imperia to use its name or trademarks and has sent Imperia a cease-and-desist letter to halt its unauthorized use. There is no evidence that any investor who has ordered a Visa debit card from Imperia has actually received such a card."
Imperia has 14,000 victims worldwide, the SEC said.
"Although not appearing to directly target it, Imperia's activities in the United States appear to taken their greatest toll among the deaf community," the SEC added. "There appear to be approximately 6,000 investors, most of whom belong to hearing impaired community, who have invested in excess of $4 million. ...
"Neither Imperia nor its securities are registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission," and it "is not licensed with the Commission, with any state, or with any Self Regulatory Organization."
Imperia's controllers went to great lengths to conceal their identities, the SEC said, "by using an anonymous browser to host its website, by communicating with all investors exclusively via email without disclosing the identity of any control persons, and by establishing off-shore PayPal style bank accounts to conceal the identity of the recipient of the investment proceeds."
Imperia, via its website, offered a host of excuses about why returns have not been paid, including that its computer system is "overloaded and unable to process the payments; a delay in obtaining a trustee agreement for its partners; the need for additional time to verify the identity of investors; and, its computer system had been compromised by hackers."
It initially claimed it could start paying investors only "when it had at least 10,000 investors - a number that already has been significantly exceeded."
The SEC demands information on Imperia's victims, disgorgement and penalties.
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