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Federal regulators are trying to halt the operation of a Utah company that purports to share profits from online advertising services, but that regulators claim is a Ponzi scheme that took in $207 million from more than 160,000 investors around the world.
The Securities and Exchange Commission filed a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court in Salt Lake City and asked for a temporary restraining order against a company called Traffic Monsoon and owner Charles David Scoville, 36, of Murray. U.S. District Judge Jill Parrish granted the restraining order Tuesday evening, freezing the assets of Scoville and Traffic Monsoon, which is sitting on about $60 million in cash in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Regulators seek appointment of a receiver to find and protect the assets of Scoville and the company.
Scoville could not be contacted Tuesday afternoon for comment. A call to the company's customer service line said it was only available through 3 p.m. MDT.
Traffic Monsoon sells itself as an online advertising services company. Users buy "Banner AdPacks" for $50 each and can earn $5 per AdPack in two months or a return of about 10 percent if they click on 50 other website ads in any 24-hour period. But clicking on the ads is highly automated and takes about 4 minutes a day, according to the lawsuit.
Scoville started Traffic Monsoon in October of 2014 and at the beginning of this year was taking in about $25 million a month.
The company claimed that returns to customers came from seven different advertising products. But, in fact, nearly 99 percent of the revenue comes from the sale of AdPacks, the complaint says.
"Because all investor returns are funded through new investor contributions, the company operates as a classic Ponzi scheme," the SEC alleges.
The company says it has sold 14 million AdPacks to about 162,000 website visitors, or about 86 AdPacks per visitor. Hundreds have deposited more than $100,000 each into the Traffic Monsoon's account at PayPal, the SEC says.
Some 90 percent of the investors about 145,000 live outside the United States, and the investments appear most popular in countries that are some of the poorest in the world, the lawsuit says.
"For example, the Traffic Monsoon website is the 385th most visited website in Bangladesh, 366th in Venezuela and 517th most visited site in Morocco," according to court filings.
Scoville is the sole owner of the company and is aware that AdPacks could be considered investments and, therefore, fall under federal law, the SEC says.
Buyers must agree to recognize Traffic Monsoon as a "true advertising company which shares its revenues and not as any form of investment of any kind." Payouts are not referred to as "returns."
After PayPal lifted a freeze on the accounts, Scoville transferred large amounts into bank accounts, including $21 million into his own account at JPMorgan Chase, the lawsuit says.