If a complete stranger promises to give you over $300,000 in exchange for just $25 up front, one or more gigantic red flags should go up in your head. But apparently that doesn’t always happen.
Washington resident and author Shelby Bell is the founder of the so-called “Hobo Prince Economic Project.” He claims to have access to over $350 billion, and he wants to share it with seven million people by paying them $900 a week for the next seven years. The first 10,000 people to sign up will even be rewarded with a free computer! There is just one catch: participants are required to pay a one-time, $25 “administrative fee” when they sign their contracts.
Most people know that when something seems too good to be true, it probably is. Despite that common adage, over the past several months, hundreds, possibly even thousands, of people have given this man $25 in hopes of achieving financial security for themselves and loved ones.
Perhaps not surprisingly, as far as is known to date, no one has received a free computer or any money in return.
The only evidence Shelby Bell discloses of his supposed $350 billion is a convoluted graph on his website that literally has arrows going in every direction, sometimes even in loops, around words like “bank,” “clients,” and “insurance companies.”
This is presented, along with speeches about wanting to help those who are struggling and wanting to rebuild America’s economy, at seminars all over the Northwest in malls, conference halls and even churches. He must be pretty convincing, considering that he’s leaving a long line of perplexed people in his wake, each of whom are out $25, waiting for their weekly debit cards to be mailed.
Not too long ago, KATU’s Problem Solvers did a bit of investigative reporting on the Hobo Prince Economic Project. They found that “the Hobo Prince contract says a company named Dashwood, Brewer and Phipps in London is carrying out Shelby Bell’s financial scheme—a complicated insurance plan.
But Dashwood, Brewer and Phipps said they have no business with Shelby Bell. Bell, who has yet to be charged with any crime, also failed to appear for an interview he had scheduled with the station to discuss the story.
It appears that the Hobo Prince Economic Project is essentially a kind of Ponzi scheme, wherein clients are promised a substantial profit or payoff based on a relatively smaller initial “investment.” The only real business model such a financial venture has is the one that puts the participants’ money directly into the leader’s pocket, which is why such scams are illegal in many countries, including the United States.
Bernie Madoff, a former Wall Street chairman, was sentenced to 150 years in prison (the maximum sentence allowed under law) in 2009 for creating and maintaining the largest and most elaborate Ponzi scheme in American history over the past few decades. He was believed to have made at least $18 billion from it.
But we aren’t talking about some rich guy getting even richer stealing other rich guys’ big bucks on Wall Street; Shelby Bell is deliberately preying on people who are already vulnerable—low income households, those out of work, the elderly, etc. He’s tapping into their wishes for a better life, and taking advantage of their dreams by selling them smoke and mirrors.
The most recent update to his website, posted on Jan. 7, assures his followers that the confusion has been taking care of and that “based on the latest correspondence the debit cards will go out by Jan. 20.” I have no doubts that by then, yet another excuse will be posted extending this caustic illusion even further.
It might be tempting to hold an attitude along the lines of “Well if someone’s that stupid then they deserve to lose their money,” or even “At least losing $25 isn’t that big of a deal.” A person likely to buy into this scheme, however, is probably a person already in a desperate or approaching desperate situation.
No one in an absolutely desperate position deserves to be taken advantage of. And for someone living paycheck to paycheck, or without a paycheck, the slightest loss of money is significant.
As a self-described starving college student, I hesitate about every dollar I spend. I don’t imagine I’d feel much better about my situation if I realized I basically threw $25 in the trash. Shelby Bell deserves to be in jail for what he’s doing; hopefully he finds his way there sometime soon.
Ponzi schemes and their cousins, pyramid scams, are all over today. Though they’re technically illegal con games, fraudulent dealings and motives can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to uncover and then prove.
Awareness is the best way to protect yourself from falling into such a trap. Remember that nothing in life is really free. Remember that the only people who truly “get rich quick” are those with rich parents (through inheritance), or those who win the lottery (through sheer dumb luck). Question everything, and when opportunity knocks, ask for its credentials.
And remember that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.