The Securities and Exchange Commission has obtained a temporary restraining order and emergency asset freeze against an Internet company that allegedly defrauded deaf investors.
The company, Imperia Invest IBC, raised more than $7 million from 14,000 investors -including $4 million mainly from deaf people in the United States - and boasted of astronomical rates of return, where a $50 investment would grow to $134,000 in six months.
On its website, Imperia listed what the SEC says are fake business addresses in both the Bahamas and Vanuatu.
The website stated that investors could only access their profits by purchasing a Visa debit card from Imperia for a few hundred dollars. However, Imperia has no relationship with Visa and was using the Visa name without authorization.
According to the SEC, no evidence has been found that any of the investors received a single payment.
The SEC's complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Utah on Oct. 6 alleges that Imperia defrauded investors by soliciting funds to purchase Traded Endowment Policies, or viatical settlements, which involve the sale of an insurance policy by the policy owner before the policy matures. Policies are sold at a discount from face value in an amount greater than the current cash surrender value.
Investors transferred their funds into pooled accounts in Costa Rica, Panama, or the British Virgin Islands.
“Unless Imperia's actions are enjoined, additional investors will be duped into investing in Imperia with no hope whatsoever of receiving the promised returns,” wrote SEC lawyers Daniel Wadley and Thomas Melton in the complaint. “In addition, Imperia should be compelled to disgorge amounts it has improperly obtained from investors, and should be subject to a civil penalty based on its fraudulent activities.”
According to the complaint, Imperia did not appear to specifically target the deaf community, though the company's activities “appear to taken their greatest toll” on them.
The company is accused of violating the Securities Act and the Securities Exchange Act.
According to SEC Salt Lake Regional Office head Kenneth Israel, Imperia is not represented by counsel. The SEC was granted a motion for electronic service of the complaint and service by publication.