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A federal judge in Utah signed an order Thursday freezing the assets of an elusive company that allegedly scammed more than 14,000 people worldwide most of them deaf out of more them $7 million. About 500 of the victims are from Utah.
U.S. District Judge Dee Benson signed the order against Imperia Invest IBC, an Internet-based operation that lured people to send it relatively small amounts of money by promising returns of about 1.2 percent a day, claiming that a $50 investment would be worth $134,000 in six months.
The Utah office of the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filed a civil complaint against Imperia, which claimed to be doing business out of the Bahamas or Vanuatu, a small South Pacific island, but the addresses it used were fictitious.
Ken Israel, head of the Utah SEC office, said the action was filed here because investigators started looking into complaints from the local deaf community.
"It appears to have circulated by e-mail or on the Internet among the deaf community nationally, and Utah was one of the states that had a good number of people who invested," he said.
The deaf were not specifically targeted, but large numbers apparently bit after several circulated word about their own investments, Israel said.
"When something gets into the deaf community, it circulates rapidly," he said.
The Imperia website said money from investors would be used to buy Traded Endowment Policies. They involve an owner selling an insurance policy at a discount before the policy matures. Most of the investor funds were paid to Imperia through three PayPal-type entities in Costa Rica, Panama and the British Virgin Islands. Then they were funneled to bank accounts in Cyprus and New Zealand, the SEC said.
The government does not have enough evidence to name any of the people behind the scheme, but the investigation continues, Israel said.