Maine’s Office of Securities Assists Federal Government In Crackdown on Scheme Targeting Deaf Consumers

Mainer Among 14,000 Worldwide Allegedly Defrauded of $7 million

GARDINER, MAINE — Maine Securities Administrator Judith M. Shaw announced on Thursday that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has obtained emergency relief to freeze the assets of Imperia Invest IBC in connection with an alleged online scheme primarily targeting deaf investors and consumers—including at least one from Maine.

Maine’s Office of Securities took action against Imperia earlier this year, issuing a summary Cease and Desist Order. The May 5th order prohibited Imperia from soliciting Maine investors through the offer of unregistered securities. Maine’s action resulted from a complaint involving a deaf consumer who invested $1000 in Imperia after being promised a multi-million dollar return within six months.

Securities investigators in Maine learned that Imperia’s website made claims of astonishing returns—as much as $134,000 on an investment of as little as $50. Investigators tracked Imperia to what appears to be a phony address in the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu. The Office issued its order to alert the public and encourage other victims to contact investigators, who were concerned that other victims may have been reluctant to come forward believing that by doing so they would cause the investment to fall apart, thus preventing earlier investors from receiving the returns promised by Imperia.

Maine investigators also provided information to federal agencies to assist in a probe they were undertaking. The SEC noted Maine’s assistance when announcing the freeze of Imperia’s assets.

“Actions taken by the Office of Securities and the SEC in this case will protect investors in Maine and elsewhere,” Securities Administrator Shaw commented. “This is a concrete example of how enforcement and awareness can be enhanced through effective cooperation between state and federal securities agencies.”

The SEC’s emergency action alleges that Imperia has raised $7 million from 14,000 investors worldwide by promising astronomical returns of 1.2% per day—but that investors’ profits could only be accessed through the purchase of VISA debit cards for several hundred dollars.

According to the SEC’s complaint, Imperia had no relationship with VISA and no authorization to use the VISA name.

Shaw noted the scheme’s sophistication. Imperia’s operators allegedly used several off-shore Pay Pal-style entities in the British Virgin Islands, Costa Rica and Panama, bank accounts in Cyprus and New Zealand, and apparently phony offices in the Bahamas and Vanuatu to perpetrate the fraud. “Like many online investment schemes, it was complex and international in scope, making it essential for state, federal and international regulators to cooperate.”

Consumers with information about Imperia are urged to contact Maine’s Office of Securities. They are also encouraged to contact the Office to check an investment adviser, salesperson or investment, or for other information related to investing by calling 1-877-624-8551 (TTY 1-888-577-6690), by visiting the Office’s website (www.investors.maine.gov), or by mail to Maine Office of Securities, 121 SHS, Augusta, ME 04333-0121.

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