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Christian News Today

Ephesians 5:11 & Mark 4:22

Churches Silent Over BFA fraud?

The Baptist Foundation of Arizona defrauded over 13,000 investors, mostly Baptists, of more than $500 million worth of securities. The foundation is associated with the Arizona Baptist Convention, and many of its promoters were Baptist pastors who encouraged their congregations to invest from their life savings. They promised a high return on their investments with the Foundation's profits going to build new churches and to fund Baptist supported charities.

The foundation declared bankruptcy, leaving its investors, many of them elderly, without their life savings.

The foundation was accused of fraud and in some cases with illegal and unwise handling of the investments. Bill Crotts, past president of the foundation, called the attacks as from Satan, 'our spiritual enemy.'

The question is, who is the Satan? The foundation doesn't have to look any further than itself. The local Baptist churches that promoted the investments need to look at themselves. One investor said, 'What's bothering me, really, I am deafened by the silence from the pulpits of Southern Baptist churches in the state of Arizona.'

Maybe the church members need to speak out forcefully and take action to help their own members. It's difficult to understand their reticence. It's like sweeping dirt under a rug. The dirt remains, and the silence is deafening.

Charles Rice  Scottsdale  

Beware Of Wolves in Sheep's Clothing - Baptist Foundation of Arizona

 "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles?  "Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. "A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  "Therefore by their fruits you will know them. Matthew 7:15-20

The Arizona Southern Baptist Convention established the Foundation in 1948 for the purpose of raising and managing endowment funds to further Southern Baptist causes did not help the causes of those who supported it. Court documents alleged that the Foundation, an independent agency with trustees elected by the state convention, grew rapidly in the 1980s by offering individual investors a high rate of return and promising that part of the earnings would be used for church work. The Foundation invested heavily in real estate, including some outside the United States. When property values declined, officers allegedly set up a web of about 140 subsidiaries to hide losses through paper transactions that artificially inflated the value of its holdings.

The Foundation allegedly continued to solicit new investors, operating a Ponzi scheme in which funds from new investors were used to pay off old investors. Lawsuits further allege that Arthur Andersen ignored red flags and continued to give the Foundation clean audits, in effect aiding and abetting the fraud.

The Baptist Foundation of Arizona, founded by the Southern Baptist Convention also used Southern Baptist pastors and former pastors as sales representatives to rob 13,000 mostly elderly Christians by promising high returns, the security of church backing, and the chance to help Baptist charities. It was nothing but a fraud and a big Ponzi Scheme.

Until the late 1980s, the BFA had been managing church building funds and retirement funds for a few thousand Baptist layman. Profits came from land investments in the red-hot Arizona market. But when property values tanked, the BFA investments did, too. Instead of admitting losses and writing down loans, BFA officials in several cases allegedly cooked up transactions between BFA and shell companies that made it look as if the BFA was still profitable. "It was a big paper charade," charged Assistant State Attorney General Robert Zumoff, reported the Phoenix New Times

The Baptist Foundation of Arizona took in a total of $590 million, using a maze of shell corporations in a Ponzi scheme, before it was shut down in August 1999. Ponzi schemes depend on the solicitation of new investors to pay existing ones.

The Southern Baptist Church allowed the BFA salesmen to Preach the investment stuff from the Pulpit, Many different churches   that were supported and financed by the BFA and they told they sheep that they  were furthering the CAUSE.

Three people related to the Baptist Foundation pleaded guilty to defrauding investors in May and have agreed to cooperate in an investigation of five others indicted on 32 counts each of theft, fraud and racketeering.

A Phoenix judge had accepted plea bargains from three of eight defendants charged with crimes in the 1999 collapse of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention.  They were  accused of bilking 13,000 investors -- many elderly and most members of Southern Baptist churches -- of hundreds of millions of dollars in the largest fraud case involving a non-profit organization in U.S. history.

Foundation officials Edgar Kuhn, Donald Deardoff and Jalma Hunsinger had earlier pleaded guilty to reduced charges in exchange for cooperating with prosecutors in a case involving five others who claimed innocence reported the Associated Baptist Press.

The financial crash in 1999 of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, resulted in the largest collapse of a religious financial institution in the nation's history resulted with many elderly sheep robbed, hurt and devastated. For all of its talk of love, compassion and good works the Southern Baptist leadership did very little to change and reverse this tragic situation. 

Restoring Our Integrity, a grassroots effort seeking to repay Baptist Foundation of Arizona investors and restore Southern Baptist's integrity, had ceased operations reported the (Southern) Baptist Press on April 18, 2000 as it had very little support from Southern Baptist churches or its members.

Only 66 Arizona Southern Baptist churches and missions, out of about 400  congregations, had pledged to support the ROI plan, said Larry Deskins, pastor  of Gateway Fellowship, SBC, Gilbert, Ariz., who had spearheading the ROI  effort.  Another  effort  the Jerusalem Fund  had only raised $384,918. Although 

Steve Bass, Arizona Southern Baptist Convention executive director- treasurer, who made a annual salary of  $89,937, said the churches' lack of commitment to ROI should not be construed  as a lack of concern for BFA investors, although their real deeds spoke louder than their hypocritical words

The saga of the Baptist Foundation of Arizona showed how their religious leaders did not care about what happened to the sheep. For while a group called "Restoring Our Integrity," composed of local pastors had attempted unsuccessfully to raise money in Arizona and elsewhere for BFA investors, the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination of sixteen million members had not been a good Samaritan to help the oldsters who have lost their life savings and were hurting. 

It had been all talk and words but no real concrete action and deeds to correct the injustice to the elderly brought about by the Southern Baptist Convention through its support and management of BFA.

But it was the Southern Baptist convention who supported and propagated the support of the  $590 million Ponzi scheme that enriched insiders.  Private companies controlled by one insider, former BFA director Harold Friend, were paid about $11 million from BFA and its maze of related companies from November 1998 to November 1999,

However Armstrong, a retired Southern Baptist minister, and his wife, Lois, 76, need money from BFA and can't get a penny. He suffers from diabetes, cancer and a liver malady.  The Armstrongs sold their Casa Grande home in June and wired the proceeds, about $160,000, to their BFA account. In all, the Armstrongs had entrusted about $460,000 to BFA. Their "investments" amounted to promissory notes. BFA borrowed their money at a high rate, and promised to pay it back , reported the Phoneix News Times.

 BFA didn't keep its promises. It filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November, claiming $640 million in debts and $160 million to $200 million in assets.  Now the Armstrongs are living in their RV. It is the only home they can afford.  

 While others are investigating and prosecuting the BFA leaders no one is looking into the system that allowed the Southern Baptist pastors and former pastors to do their thievery - The Southern Baptist Convention. Was this fair and right? It this the way justice was  done in America?

QUOTES FROM SOME SO CALLED BFA INVESTORS....

"These people are wolves in sheep's clothing, and our money has been consumed by them. They are nothing more than thieves, and God says, 'Thou shalt not steal'."

"What's bothering me really, I am deafened by the silence from the pulpits of the Southern Baptist churches in the state of Arizona."

"This is the largest charitable religious scam in the history of the United States. It makes Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker look like they were kindergarten kids."

"I just can't understand [where the missing $590 Million went]. You'd have to be in a casino 24 hours a day for years to get rid of that kind of money."

"How is the fox who raided the henhouse going to bring back the chickens? They ate them all, and now they're fat."

QUOTES FROM BAPTIST FOUNDATION PAMPHLETS

BFA's Biblically-based stewardship perspective...

"Stewardship Investing" through the Foundation is a TREMENDOUS OPPORTUNITY TO BE FOUND FAITHFUL ABOVE and BEYOND the TITHE TO YOUR LOCAL CHURCH...

Do good while doing good...IT'S WISE STEWARDSHIP IN ACTION...

Don't let your retirement dollars fly away! In the complex and changing world of today, planning for retirement is CRITICAL. WE CAN HELP you ACHIEVE YOUR RETIREMENT DREAMS (NIGHTMARES).

If you are living on a fixed income, you certainly want to be ASSURED OF THE STABILITY OF YOUR INCOME STREAM...Call us today...You'll learn firsthand about the UNIQUE MINISTRY and EXCELLENT SERVICE WHICH CAN BE YOURS WHEN YOU PUT YOUR "TRUST" in the Baptist Foundation of Arizona.

Touching hearts and lives AS THE DREAM IS REALIZED.

"Up close and personal" service. Our Financial Services Representatives will GLADLY come to your home or place of business to handle a transaction for you. In addition to our three offices, we also provide "SATELLITE" OFFICES IN CHURCHES throughout Arizona...

We re-invest your money, and THE PROFIT we earn GOES to further such ministries as Christian education, care for children and senior adults, missions and new church starts...

...NOT ONE BFA client has ever lost one penny of their investment or interest they earned...

WE HAVE A PROVEN TRACK RECORD OF PRUDENT AND PROFITABLE OPERATIONS...Profitable for whom!)

EACH YEAR, AN INDEPENDENT AUDIT of BFA is CONDUCTED BY ONE OF THE LEADING ACCOUNTING FIRMS IN THE NATION.

We know that for most of you, our common ties to the churches are one of the most important reasons you invest with BFA, CFP, and NCV, AND THOSE SAME TIES CAN HELP CARRY US THROUGH THESE DIFFICULT TIMES.

How about it?

The Baptist Foundation of Arizona, a subsidiary of the Southern Baptist Convention used Southern Baptist pastors and former pastors as sales representatives to rob 13,000 mostly elderly Christians by promising high returns, the security of church backing, and the chance to help Baptist charities. It was nothing but a fraud and a big Ponzi Scheme.

Until the late 1980s, the BFA had been managing church building funds and retirement funds for a few thousand Baptist layman. Profits came from land investments in the red-hot Arizona market. But when property values tanked, the BFA investments did, too. Instead of admitting losses and writing down loans, BFA officials in several cases allegedly cooked up transactions between BFA and shell companies that made it look as if the BFA was still profitable. "It was a big paper charade," charged Assistant State Attorney General Robert Zumoff, reported the Phoenix New Times

To counter the unreported losses, fund president William Crotts and the BFA stepped up marketing, allegedly trying to bring in enough new money to cover old losses. Through the '90s, brochures extolled BFA's "Biblically based" investment plans, and urged faithful Baptists to "do good by doing good," becoming "bolder stewards of their God-given resources." Helpful salesmen made house calls. "[Our pastor] said if you've got any money, take it up to the Baptist Foundation," recalls investor Opal Bostwick, 72. The marketing worked. The BFA now owed investors $200 million more than it did in 1995.

Reaping from faith

Tulsa World (USA) By Ziva Branstetter, World Projects Editor

Lucrative 'seed faith' mail ministry has Tulsa ties

 Once a traveling tent-revival preacher, the Rev. James Eugene Ewing built a direct-mail empire from his mansion in Los Angeles that brings millions of dollars flowing into a Tulsa post office box.

Ewing's computerized mailing operation, Saint Matthew's Churches, mails more than 1 million letters per month, many to poor, uneducated people, while Ewing lives in a mansion and drives luxury cars.

The letters contain an alluring promise of "seed faith": send Saint Matthew's your money and God will reward you with cash, a cure to your illness, a new home and other blessings. They often contain items such as prayer cloths, a "Jesus eyes handkerchief," golden coins, communion wafers and "sackcloth billfolds." Recipients are often warned to open the letters in private and not discuss them with others.

The approach reaped Ewing and his organization a gross income of more than $100 million since 1993, including $26 million in 1999, the last year Saint Matthew's made its tax records public. And while much of the money is spent on postage and salaries, Ewing's company receives nonprofit status and pays no federal taxes.

Though Ewing claims it is a church, Saint Matthew's Churches, once called St. Matthew Publishing Inc., has no address other than a Tulsa post office box. It has two listed phone numbers in Tulsa and both are answered by a recorded religious message.

The organization is not related to other Tulsa-area churches named St. Matthew's, though many of them have received calls asking to be removed from its mailing list.

Ole Anthony, founder of the Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit religious watchdog group, has tracked Ewing's organization for years. The foundation was largely responsible for exposing televangelist Robert Tilton in 1991 after Anthony said he found prayer requests sent to Tilton in Tulsa trash Dumpsters.

At the time, Tilton and Ewing shared the same Tulsa attorney, J.C. Joyce. Saint Matthew's Churches is incorporated at Joyce's downtown Tulsa law office and the organization paid Joyce's law firm more than $2.6 million for legal services during three years, records show.

Anthony has also obtained documents that describe how Ewing and his organization use demographic data to target the poor.

"He capitalizes on the isolation of the loneliest and poorest members of our society, promising them magical answers to their fears and needs if only they will demonstrate their faith by sending him money," Anthony said.

"He is, quite literally, the father of the modern-day 'seed-faith' con cept that fuels the multibillion-dollar Christian industry known as the 'health-and-wealth gospel.'

Joyce, who has represented Ewing for decades, said Ewing, 70, would not agree to an interview for this story. He said Anthony's characterization of Ewing and his faith is inaccurate and that Anthony "is not credible."

Joyce said seed faith "is a biblical principle that is preached by thousands."

"The Bible is full of admonitions to give."

Joyce said the church has services in a Presbyterian church that it leases in New York City and that Ewing preaches during some of the services.

The pastor of the church, the Rev. Leslie Merlin, said she had never heard of Ewing but that Saint Matthew's Churches conducted services there.

Ewing, who did not attend divinity school, was ordained by the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches.

Sharecroppers' son

Ewing was born in Texas in 1933, the son of south Texas sharecroppers, according to his mailings. After serving in the Air Force, he chartered Camp Meetings Revivals in Dallas in 1958. He described the organization as "educational, charitable, missionary and evangelistic."

Ewing's tent-revival crusade grew quickly. A full-page ad in the 1963 Tulsa World announced a "deliverance revival: Gene Ewing coming under one of the world's largest tents."

Ewing kept a decidedly lower profile several years later when he returned to Tulsa to meet Oral Roberts.

Donations to Roberts' ministry had plummeted after Roberts built Oral Roberts University and joined the United Methodist Church. His top advisers were seeking a buyer for the ministry's corporate airplane.

The Rev. Wayne A. Robinson, then the vice president of public affairs for the Oral Roberts Evangelistic Association, called Ewing about the plane. Robinson was the executive producer of Roberts' television shows and editor-in-chief of his publications. He also was the ghostwriter for Roberts' autobiography.

Ewing expressed interest in the plane, which was dispatched to California to pick up Ewing and several other associates.

"I brought them in to see Oral," Robinson recalled. "I was expecting the appropriate deference of these guys to Oral, the big man. About the first thing Gene said was, 'Oral, you are in trouble, and I can help you.' "

Ewing, who had little formal education, was about 5 feet, 7 inches tall, wore expensive clothing and jewelry and a blow-dried hairstyle, Robinson said.

"He had all the things you can think of of people who had made it and come out of poverty: the most expensive silk suits, alligator shoes, coifed hair."

Ewing spoke in broken grammar and one of his model letters contained 17 misspellings, Robinson said. But Roberts "recognized that this person had something to say, and he was willing to listen."

During a second meeting with Roberts, Ewing laid out his seed-faith philosophy.

"Gene laid out one of the most sophisticated fund-raising campaigns I had ever seen. He said, 'Oral, I want you to write your supporters and tell them you are going in the prayer tower, and you are going to read their prayer requests and pray over them.' He stayed there three days. I forget how many hundred thousands of letters we had, but it was huge."

Robinson said that on Ewing's advice, Roberts responded to the letters with a letter outlining seed faith.

"You give and you get from God. It was a kind of prosperity gospel," Robinson said.

Roberts was so happy with Ewing's advice that he gave Ewing the plane, Robinson said.

The next year, income to Roberts' ministry doubled, to $12 million from about $6 million, Robinson said.

Despite the prosperous times, Robinson said, he was unhappy in the job and soon quit. Today, he is a pastor of the All Faiths Unitarian Congregation Church in Fort Myers, Fla.

Once Ewing rescued Roberts' finances, other well-known evangelists came calling, Robinson said.

"Once he did it with the biggest man of all, then all the others were just tickled to get on board."

Robinson said that after he left Roberts' ministry, he had a chance meeting on an airplane with Tulsa-based evangelist T.L. Osborn, who had also sought Ewing's services.

"He said, 'We were down to counting pencils and paper clips until Gene came along.' "

A certain flair

Ewing's flair for effective, dramatic direct-mail appeals won him jobs writing for evangelists including Tilton, Rex Humbard and "Rev. Ike." In many cases, the letters are identical but contain different signatures.

The Trinity Foundation, which obtained copies of the identical letters, has dubbed Ewing "God's Ghostwriter."

"We had nine different televangelists essentially sending out the same letter," Anthony said. "He (Ewing) makes most of his money by selling these packages to televangelists."

Anthony said one Ewing letter, written for Humbard, brought in $64 for each copy mailed. Another mailing by Humbard contains a "sackcloth billfold" and asks recipients to mail a "seed offering" of $19 to a Boca Raton, Fla., post office box.

A similar letter from Tilton also contained a "sackcloth billfold" but encouraged recipients to return a "seed of faith" of at least $709.00.

Joyce said Ewing has written for many other evangelists.

"Pastors preach other people's sermons all the time," he said.

Tulsa evangelist Billy James Hargis became friends with Ewing in the 1970s, said his wife, Betty Hargis.

"We were having some difficult times here in Tulsa. He advised my husband on some things and mainly since that time it's been a friendship," she said.

Betty Hargis said she and her husband receive Ewing's mailings.

"When he does something, he does it right, first class and showy."

While writing pitch letters for other evangelists, Ewing continued to build his own empire.

In 1971, Ewing bought a Dallas church and named it Cathedral of Compassion. A two-page ad announced the church opening, which was attended by boxer Joe Louis and a bevy of celebrity preachers and politicians.

Three years later, Ewing moved his Church of Compassion to an elaborate former theater in Los Angeles. Ewing lived in a mansion across the street from singer Pat Boone, according to an article in the Los Angeles Times.

 Joyce said the home wasn't a mansion and that it was Ewing's office.

Ewing later changed the organization's name to Rev. Ewing's Evangelistic Ministries Inc., or REEM, a religious, direct-mail operation that received tax-exempt status.

In 1978, Ewing and an associate, Ray McElrath, incorporated an advertising company and a data processing company to provide printing and mailing services to nonprofit religious groups. The companies were incorporated in Tulsa but kept offices in California, records show.

Nine months later, the two incorporated Church by Mail Inc., with a downtown Tulsa address. The IRS called the organization "virtually identical" to REEM.

In its application for tax-exempt status, Church by Mail stated that "it conducts regular worship services, usually without the congregation physically present."

The company sent mailings to more than 3 million homes in 46 states.

The mailings included the "Gold Book Partnership with God" still used by Saint Mat thew's today. The book contained a year's worth of monthly coupons. Recipients were instructed to "tear out a coupon and mail it with a 'faith money payment' to Rev. Ewing each month."

Church by Mail's net mail revenue in 1980 totaled just more than $3 million and it reported contributing $100 to charity. Despite the hefty revenue, Church by Mail reported a deficit, mainly because of the complex financial arrangements between the organization and Ewing's for-profit companies.

Ewing and McElrath's advertising company loaned more than $2.1 million to Church by Mail in 1980 and accrued more than $200,000 in commissions, the court records show. In addition to salary from Church by Mail, both were paid salaries by the advertising company, which also employed their sons, the records show.

In court filings, the IRS argued that funds generated by Church by Mail "inure to the benefit of private individuals."

"Ewing and McElrath sit at the top of a very lucrative set of organizations which they totally control without interference," the IRS brief states.

Five years later, with the IRS court battle still under way, Ewing incorporated Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail, also listing Joyce's Tulsa law firm as its address. Records show that organization was soon taking in millions from its direct-mail appeals.

Joyce said the name change had nothing to do with the court case.

Meanwhile, Ewing and McElrath lived opulent lifestyles. On his voter registration form, Ewing listed his occupation as ad vertising and gave a Beverly Hills address.

McElrath, who also claims to be an ordained minister, listed his occupation as advertising and gave an address in Marina del Ray, Calif.

Ewing, McElrath and their nonprofit and for-profit companies leased numerous luxury cars from a Tulsa auto leasing company during the 1980s in deals arranged by Joyce, records show. The cars included four Rolls-Royces, two Jaguars, three Mercedes sedans and a Ferrari.

Joyce said the auto leases were paid for through profits from Ewing's for-profit company.

"Because he's a minister he's supposed to drive a Jeep?"

Records show both Ewing and McElrath were paid salaries of more than $300,000 in 1999, the last year the organization made its tax forms public.

Joyce declined to divulge recent financial information about the church and said it did not issue annual financial reports.

'Good growth addresses'

Although Ewing and his companies spent thousands each month to lease expensive automobiles, Ewing was having trouble paying taxes, records show.

A federal tax lien was filed stating Ewing owed more than $10,000 in unpaid taxes from 1981 and 1989. Another federal tax lien sought payment of more than $346,000 owed by his company Twentieth Century Advertising Agency during 1982 and 1987, records show.

Joyce said the liens were released after the debts were paid.

In 1992, the IRS commissioner issued a final ruling denying tax-exempt status for Church by Mail Inc.

The ruling had no impact on Ewing's Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail, which brought in an average $26,000 per day by 1993, according to a memo obtained by the Tulsa World. The memo from McElrath to Joyce trumpets the success of the organization's 1.1 million mailings each month.

"J.C., this growth program is working like a dream. . . . We are going to be able to get a much better selection of good growth addresses than we have ever been able to in the past thanks to a new program that we now have," states the memo, dated Oct. 19, 1993.

"Using this new method of selection we are actually picking those geographic areas that we know respond the best to our growth letters. The size of each special area is about two to four city blocks. And thank God there are 10's of thousands of them across the nation."

Joyce said the memo "is very much directed to the goals of the church in saving souls."

Letters sent to the organization went to a Tulsa post office box, were opened in Tulsa and the funds deposited in a Tulsa bank, court records show.

A 1995 memo from McElrath to Ewing, Joyce and others states that the daily bank balance for Church by Mail and Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail must be faxed to him by 11 a.m. It states that the report should include "estimates for all unopened mail including today's."

Joyce said after the letters are opened and the funds deposited, the prayer requests are sent to Saint Matthew's California offices.

"The church prays over them five times a day, every day. They've got 100 people at times reading them."

The Tulsa World obtained numerous letters written to Saint Matthew's Churches and its predecessors.

One letter from Sister Lupe Martinez thanks Ewing for praying for her. Martinez states she is unemployed, 65 years old and living on a monthly pension check.

"I try my best to help your mission, whatever I could give," the letter states.

A postcard filled out and returned by a boy from Detroit contains a note in a child's handwriting.

"I am 10 years old. I only can give a quarter. Please don't underrate me because of my age, I believe strongly in Jesus," it states.

Some recipients of Ewing's mailings sent him angry letters demanding to be removed from his mailing list.

A pastor from Tyler, Texas, wrote to Ewing, asking that a member of his church be removed from the Saint Matthew's mailing list: "Rev. Ewing, I have written to you to stop sending these letters . . . as per her request. As her pastor, I am sending a copy of this letter to the state attorney general's office to have the letters stopped."

Joyce said Saint Matthew's removes people from its mailing list upon request. He said there may be a lag time between the request and the removal because Saint Matthew's uses a commercial printing company for its mailing services.

Some Ewing mailings contain a coupon that recipients can cut out, sign and state how much money they hope God will bring them. One woman filled out her name and stated that she needed $150 million while another simply wrote, "All I can get."

Shirley Waldemar of West Hampstead, N.Y., gave about $80 a month to Saint Matthew's Churches for about five months until she began to wonder who was behind the company.

"They would send you a little piece of cloth and it was supposed to be doing things for you, and I thought that was silly."

Waldemar said she stopped sending money after she was unable to reach a person connected with the company on the telephone or find a street address for it in Tulsa.

"They purport to pray for people who are having problems. . . . They were basically just asking for money. . . . It did make you feel if you did not give, something bad would happen."

http://www.tulsaworld.com/

The Top 10 scams

The Top 10 scams as listed by the North American Securities Administrators Association, ranked by the organization in order of prevalence or concern:

1.     Unlicensed individuals, such as life insurance agents, selling securities.
To verify that a person is licensed or registered to sell securities, call your state securities regulator. If the person is not registered, don't invest.

2.    Affinity group fraud.
Many scammers use their victim's religious or ethnic identity to gain their trust --knowing that it's human nature to trust people who are like you --and then steal their life savings. From "gifting" programs at some churches to foreign exchange scams targeted at Asian Americans, no group seems to be without con artists who seek to exploit others for financial gain.

3.    Payphone and ATM sales.
In early March, 25 states and the District of Columbia announced actions against companies and individuals -- many of them independent life insurance agents --that took roughly 4,500 people for $76 million selling coin-operated customer-owned telephones. Investors leased payphones for between $5,000 and $7,000 and were promised annual returns of up to 15 percent. Regulators say the largest of these investments appeared to be nothing but Ponzi schemes.

4.    Promissory notes.
Short-term debt instruments issued by little-known or sometimes non-existent companies that promise high returns --upwards of 15 percent monthly --with little or no risk. These notes are often sold to investors by independent life insurance agents. In Indiana, 18 elderly investors lost some $1.4 million in a promissory note scam. An 80-year-old woman lost her life savings of $324,000. Interestingly, this is the scam that has been most used in Ponzi-scheme banking in Eastern Europe, notably Albania and Romania.

5.    Internet fraud.
Scammers use the wide reach and supposed anonymity of the Internet to "pump and dump" thinly traded stocks, peddle bogus offshore "prime bank" investments and publicize pyramid schemes. Roughly half the states have Internet surveillance programs that watch for fraud or investigate investor complaints.

6.    Ponzi/pyramid schemes.
Always in style, these swindles promise high returns to investors, but the only people who consistently make money are the promoters who set them in motion, using money from previous investors to pay new Investors. Inevitably, the schemes collapse.

7.    "Callable" CDs.
These higher-yielding certificates of deposit won't mature for 10 to 20 years, unless the bank, not the investor, "calls,'. or redeems, them. Redeeming the CD early may result in large losses --upwards of 25 percent of the original investment. In Iowa. for example, a retiree in her 70's invested over $100.000 of her 97-year-old mother's money in three "callable" CD's with 20 year maturities. Her intention, she told her broker, was to use the money to pay her mother's nursing home bills. Regulators say sellers of callable CDs often don't adequately disclose the risks and restrictions.

8.    Viatical settlements.
Originated as a way to help the gravely ill pay their bills, these financial interests in the death benefits of terminally ill patients are always risky and sometimes fraudulent. The insured person gets a percentage of the death benefit in cash; investors get a share of the death benefit when the insured dies. Because of uncertainties predicting when someone will die, these investments are extremely speculative.

9.     Prime bank schemes.
Scammers promise investors triple-digit returns through access to the investment portfolios of the world's elite banks. Purveyors of these schemes often target conspiracy theorists, promising access to the "secret" investments used by the Rothschilds or Saudi royalty. In North Dakota, state securities regulators are alleging a small group of salesmen, including a local pastor, used religion and family ties to bilk investors out of $2 million in a prime bank scam.

10.          Investment seminars.
Often the people getting rich are those running the seminar, making money from admission fees and the sale of books and audiotapes. These seminars are marketed through newspaper, radio and TV ads and "infomercials" on cable television. Regulators urge investors to be extremely skeptical about any get-rich-quick scheme.


http://www.dced.state.ak.us/bsc/toptenscams.htm
 

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