SAN DIEGO -- It is a new twist to an old scam -- pyramid or Ponzi schemes are back, and with the help of the Internet, scammers could make millions of dollars and then disappear quickly.
Some San Diego victims found out the hard way in the latest scam known as autosurfing.
“It was an investment I could live with,” said Melanie Garrett.
“I trusted him,” said Gerry Simoni.
“I kind of feel cheated,” said Brian Hudson.
Alex Blench said, “It was too good to be true.”
Garrett, Simoni, Hudson and Blench were victims of a pyramid scheme spreading across the country.
Robert Krimm is a self-proclaimed multimillion dollar CEO based in Florida. He once ran at least half-dozen autosurfing Web sites.
Simoni said, “He’s ripped me off for close to $80,000,” said Simoni.
Simoni is one of the unlucky victims. He got involved with Krimm and his autosurfing company, Tri-Star Media, Inc., last fall.
At the time, Simoni thought it was easy money, too easy.
“Basically, you're getting paid to look at Web sites,” said Simoni.
Simoni purchased $1,000 worth of what is being called advertising with Krimm’s business. All Simoni had to do was click on a few Web sites each day and at the end of 15 days, he had a 50 percent return on his money.
“At this point, I don't think I’m ever going to get my money back,” said Simoni.
Autosurfing offers are modern day pyramid schemes. It is considered a complicated scam that sells visits to a Web site as a commodity. The more visits, the more value to the Web site, and the more money to be made.
However, before Simoni realized what was happening, he got his teenage children involved in the scheme. They, in turn, got others involved.
At first, they all made money, and then it all just stopped.
“It’s been two months since I even saw a dollar,” said Blench.
The money, the communication, everything stopped, they said.
Garrett said, “I’ve made a few requests to cash out to small degrees and nothing, no response.”
“I requested a check for all of it and it still hasn’t been paid to me,” said Hudson.
These victims are not the first autosurfing victims.
Randall Lee, regional director with the Security Exchange Commission, helped bring down an autosurfing Web site called 12 Daily Pro.
“It turns out this program raised almost $50 million from 175,000 investors and it was nothing more than an enormous Ponzi scheme,” said Lee.
According to Lee, that’s usually what happens with pyramids. Authorities step in and shut them down or they will eventually collapse on their own.
Krimm’s company seems to have shut down as most of his Web sites are down and he has gone underground.
10News investigators made several attempts to contact Krimm, including tracking him down at a gated community in Naples, Fla., but he was not available.
10News learned that Krimm’s business office was a post office box inside a Naples mailing center.
Will the victims of this scheme ever see their money again?
After reviewing the information 10News investigators gathered, San Diego State University finance professor Tom Warschauer said he did not think so.
“We call it tuition; it’s money you spent to learn something and that’s what these people have done. They paid their tuition in the investment business,” said Warschauer.
In his last e-mail, Krimm promised to refund each former member.
However, of the victims 10News talked to, not one had received anything.
Within the last week, 10News investigators discovered documents that showed Krimm had purchased a 5,000-square foot waterfront home in Naples, Fla.
The state of Michigan’s Office of Financial Regulation has opened an investigation into Krimm’s Web operations. The office did not provide details, but they said there were victims in Michigan.
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