SEC Announces Charges Against India-Based Operators of High-Yield Investment Scheme Using Social Media
The Securities and Exchange Commission today announced charges against two India-based operators of an alleged high-yield investment scheme seeking to exploit investors through pervasive social media pitches on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Pankaj Srivastava and Nataraj Kavuri offered “guaranteed” daily profits as they anonymously solicited investments for their purported investment management company called Profits Paradise. They invited investors to deposit funds that supposedly would be pooled with money from other investors and traded on foreign exchanges as well as in stocks and commodities. They created a Profits Paradise website and related social media sites to describe the profits as “huge,” “lucrative,” and “handsome,” and they characterized the risk as “minimal.”
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that the guaranteed returns were false, and that the investments being offered bore the hallmark of a fraudulent high-yield investment program. Srivastava and Kavuri attempted to conceal their identities by supplying a fictitious name and contact information when registering Profits Paradise’s website address. They also communicated under the fake names of “Paul Allen” and “Nathan Jones.” After the SEC began its investigation into the investment offering, the Profits Paradise website was discontinued.
“Srivastava and Kavuri used excessive secrecy in their effort to swindle investors through social media outreach and a website that attracted as many as 4,000 visitors per day,” said Stephen Cohen, Associate Director of the SEC’s Division of Enforcement. “Our investigation stopped the constant solicitations once the website disappeared, and successfully tracked down the identities of the perpetrators behind those fraudulent solicitations.”
According to the SEC’s order instituting administrative proceedings, Srivastava and Kavuri used the Profits Paradise website and YouTube videos to detail three investment plans with terms of 120 business days. The first plan purportedly yielded daily interest of 1.5 percent on investments of $10 to $749. The second plan purportedly yielded 1.75 percent on investments of $750 to $3,499. And the third plan purportedly yielded 2 percent on investments of $3,500 and above. Postings on Profit Paradise’s Facebook page promised investors they could “Enjoy Hassle Free Income” and advertised a “5% Referral Commission.” The scheme also utilized a Profits Paradise Twitter account to steer potential investors to the Profits Paradise website, and Srivastava and Kavuri created a Google Plus page to promote the investment opportunity.
The SEC’s Enforcement Division alleges that Srivastava and Kavuri violated Sections 17(a)(1) and (3) of the Securities Act of 1933, and will litigate the matter before an administrative law judge.
The SEC’s investigation was conducted by Carolyn Kurr and Daniel Rubenstein, and the case was supervised by C. Joshua Felker. The SEC’s litigation will be led by Kenneth Donnelly. The SEC appreciates the assistance of the Securities and Exchange Board of India as well as the Autorité des Marchés Financiers in Quebec, the Ontario Securities Commission, and the Securities and Futures Commission in Hong Kong.
The SEC today updated an investor alert educating investors about how social media may be used to promote so-called high-yield investment programs and other fraudulent investment schemes.
“We urge investors to exercise extreme caution if they are approached to invest in a website promising incredible returns with minimal or no risk. So-called high-yield investment programs are often frauds,” said Lori J. Schock, Director of the SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy.