October 4, 2022

The Lending Company Of AZ Reports Data Theft But Gives No Help To Those Compromised

Data Theft At Major Arizona Mortgage Company Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Major incidents of data theft seem to be occurring with alarming frequency.  Even companies with considerable resources seem powerless to prevent the theft of customer records containing sensitive personal and financial data.

Two recent cases involving Michaels Stores and Sony Corp show that even huge companies are vulnerable to hackers.  I will leave it up to the experts to determine whether these data thefts are due to inadequate security protocols, but when they do occur, the company involved should take prompt and serious actions to ensure that damage to customers and employees is limited.

A serious case of data theft has occurred at The Lending Company, a major Arizona mortgage company based in Phoenix, Arizona.  In a letter sent to current and former employees, The Lending Company said,

“We are contacting you about a potential problem involving identity theft.  Recently, we have learned of a data security incident in which someone accessed and potentially downloaded sensitive personnel records including names, contact information, and social security numbers.  We have notified law enforcement  regarding the incident and have provided them with a general report.  Due to the nature of this incident we strongly encourage you to take preventative measures to help prevent and detect any misuse of your information.

We recommend that you place a fraud alert on your credit file…You are encourage to call any one of the three major credit bureaus listed below.”

The Lending Company also suggested that these additional steps be taken:

  1. Check your credit report periodically
  2. Review a copy of the comprehensive FTC guide to guard against identity theft
  3. Contact local law enforcement and file a report if you find suspicious activity on your credit report
  4. File a complaint with the FTC which will add your complaint to their Identify Theft Data Clearinghouse

The response of The Lending Company to this serious case of data theft leaves potential victims of identity theft with many unanswered questions including:

  • How long was it between the data theft and the date is was discovered?
  • Why were potential victims not immediately notified by email or a phone call instead of being informed by “snail mail”?
  • The letter only mentions a theft of personnel records.  Is there also a possibility that the theft of customer loan records occurred, potentially exposing thousands of borrowers to identity theft?
  • Did The Lending Company have reasonable security measures in place to protect customer and employee data?

The Lending Company gave a long list of chores to the victims to minimize their potential losses and aggravation due to identity theft.  Dealing with the credit bureaus, FTC and law enforcement involves a huge time commitment.  Why is The Lending Company not stepping forward with a help line or live support to deal with multiple agencies regarding a data breach that is ultimately the responsibility of The Lending Company?

It is routine in cases involved compromised financial information for the company involved to offer free credit monitoring through a credit bureau which sends alerts regarding potential credit and identity theft risks.  The credit monitoring services also have a team ready to assist victims with fraud resolution and provide identity theft insurance coverage.

The Lending Company is ultimately responsible for the data theft yet has done nothing to assist potential victims other than sending them a letter which basically says “good luck” with your efforts to stop identity theft or fraud that may occur due to data stolen from The Lending Company’s offices.

Companies should be required by law to take immediate steps to protect customers and employees in the case of theft of personal and financial records.  At a minimum, companies who allow sensitive data to be stolen should provide at no charge the best credit and fraud monitoring services available.

The Lending Company has failed to protect data and has now failed to help those who may be at risk of identity theft or worse.  Hopefully, The Lending Company will recognize its responsibility and immediately take more proactive steps to protect its customers and employees.

The Fed’s Contribution To Ponzi Schemes

12% Returns – “Guaranteed”

You don’t know whether to laugh or cry every time another Ponzi scheme comes to light.

July 28 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission said it halted a $50 million Ponzi scheme near Detroit that raised money for a real-estate investment fund and targeted the elderly.

A federal judge in Michigan agreed to freeze assets after the SEC sued John Bravata, 41, and Richard Trabulsy, 26, claiming they lured more than 400 investors by promising 8 percent to 12 percent annual returns, the agency said today in a statement. Of $50 million raised since May 2006, less than $20.7 million was spent on real estate, the SEC said.

“Investors thought they were investing in a safe and profitable real-estate investment fund, but instead their money was being used to pay for luxury homes, exotic vacations and gambling debts,” said Merri Jo Gillette, director of the SEC’s regional office in Chicago.

The defendants allegedly lured investors by saying the fund offered “safer returns” for individual retirement accounts. More than half the proceeds raised by BBC Equities were conversions from investors’ IRAs, the regulator said.

This should sound very familiar since all Ponzi schemes rely on the same ridiculous promises – very high rates of return with virtually no risk.  The promoters of this latest Ponzi scheme promised returns 1200% higher than what is available on a 2 year treasury note with virtually no risk.  400 hundred “investors” took the bait, apparently believing that 12% returns were available with little risk.

Knowing exactly how many potential investors had to be solicited in order to get 400 to sign up would provide some interesting insights on investor behavior.  Do a significant percentage of individuals fall prey to smooth talking con men promising returns that would normally imply high risk?   As we have seen from the Madoff Ponzi scheme, many wealthy and sophisticated investors succumbed to the lure of high returns with low risk.

Desperate Search For Yield Due To Fed ZIRP Policy

This latest Ponzi scheme may be unique in that the perpetrators targeted the elderly.  Con men have a natural instinct to prey upon the most vulnerable and offer them what they need the most.  Many elderly investors who previously depended on interest income from savings have seen their incomes reduced to virtually zero as the Fed has forced rates at the short end to near zero.

Super low cost funding from saver deposits have resulted in huge lending spread profits for the banks.   A Fed zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) is the silent unpublicized part of the bank bailout.   In this zero sum game, the banks are the winners and the savers the losers.  How many financially prudent savers have been forced by the Fed’s policy of zero rates to take high risks (in search of yield) that has resulted in catastrophic losses?

Savers who must have income to survive have been forced by the Fed to assume more risk with longer maturity and/or riskier asset classes.  Some savers, in their desperate search for yield, have wound up losing everything to Ponzi scheme operators.

For retired savers searching for higher yields and who can tolerate price fluctuations, consider allocating some assets into a diversified selection of blue chip companies that pay dividends.  Here are some companies to consider, with stock symbol and dividend yield listed.

Altria Group                           MO              7.2%
Kraft                                    KFT              4.1%
Merck                                   MRK            5.1%
Home Depot                          HD              3.5%
AT&T                                   T                   6.4%
Philip Morris Intl                  PMI              4.6%

Disclosures:  No Positions

Stanford Financial Ponzi Scheme – New Fraud, Old Lessons

Stanford Free – Does Crime Pay?

On February 17, 2009 Stanford Financial was accused by the SEC of defrauding investors and engaging in a “massive, ongoing fraud”.  The fraud was perpetrated by seducing investors with “improbable if not impossible” returns on their investments, according to the SEC.  The amount swindled from investors is estimated at $7 billion.

The head of Stanford Financial, Allen Stanford, was finally arrested on June 18th and has been in federal custody since that time.  During a court hearing today in Houston, Mr Stanford entered the standard “not guilty” plea and his attorneys argued for his release on bail.

During the course of the court proceedings it was revealed that:

Texas financier R. Allen Stanford controlled a secret Swiss bank account from which he withdrew roughly $100 million last year, and also tapped the account to pay bribes to the firm auditing his Antigua-based bank, federal prosecutors alleged Thursday during a hearing in federal court.

The billionaire and the executives are accused of orchestrating a massive fraud by misusing most of the $7 billion they advised clients to invest in certificates of deposit from the Stanford International Bank, based on the Caribbean island of Antigua.

Also indicted is Leroy King, the former chief executive officer of Antigua’s Financial Services Regulatory Commission. He was taken into custody by island authorities and will now face extradition proceedings, according to a government official who spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized to discuss the case. King is accused of accepting more than $100,000 in bribes to turn a blind eye to irregularities.

Investigators say even as Stanford claimed healthy returns for those investors, he was secretly diverting more than $1.6 billion in personal loans to himself.

The indictment also says Stanford and the other executives misrepresented the Antigua island bank’s financial condition, its investment strategy and how it was regulated.

Prosecutors argued that Mr Stanford should not be granted bail.

At Stanford’s bond hearing, prosecutors argued he should be held without bond because he might have access to billions of dollars in secret funds.

In court documents filed Thursday, prosecutors also said Stanford faces a potential life sentence, has access to a private jet and has an international network of wealthy acquaintances who would help him, including one who recently agreed to give him $36,000 to pay his lease on a Houston apartment for a year.

Each of the most serious counts that Stanford faces carry prison terms of up to 20 years. But prosecutors say sentencing guidelines could increase his total sentence to life in prison.

Despite the huge financial suffering caused by Stanford Financial to 30,000 investors, as well as the flight of risk, the court set bond at a small $500,000 and gave prosecutors until Friday to appeal the decision. How likely is it that anyone with a secret $100 million bank account and facing a life sentence would be concerned about forfeiting a half million bond by fleeing the US to escape justice?  This is no doubt a question that defrauded investors are asking.

Is This Man Smiling?

Is This Man Smiling?

Courtesy: Reuters

Other remarkable aspects of the Stanford Financial fraud are:

  • How long will it take for investors to be suspicious of firms offering guaranteed rates of return far in excess of what is available elsewhere?  No Ponzi scheme would work without the suspension of prudent judgment by investors blinded by ridiculous claims.  Has no one ever heard of “the higher the return the higher the risk”?
  • This is another case that should have caught the attention of the SEC long before Stanford could defraud thousands of people.  Just as with the Madoff fraud, Stanford blatantly and publicly advertised untenable returns, a classic sign of a Ponzi scheme.  The SEC blithely ignored or was oblivious to the obvious warning signs.
  • It took 4 months to arrest Mr Stanford and he is now on bail, free to enjoy his life.  At this rate of justice, Mr Stanford may get to spend the rest of his life immune from punishment and living a lavish life style courtesy of his secret bank accounts.   Defrauded investors, dolefully seeking for perspective on this matter may consider the remarks of William Gladstone who stated that “justice delayed is justice denied”.

FHA – Ready To Join Fannie And Freddie

Multiple Reasons For High FHA Default Rates

Massive default rates in the FHA loan program are starting to raise a few eyebrows.  Without major reform of fundamentally poor lending policies, the FHA could soon join the failed ranks of her sister agencies Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Delinquencies Rise

A spokesman for the FHA said 7.5% of FHA loans were “seriously delinquent” at the end of February, up from 6.2% a year earlier. Seriously delinquent includes loans that are 90 days or more overdue, in the foreclosure process or in bankruptcy.

The FHA’s share of the U.S. mortgage market soared to nearly a third of loans originated in last year’s fourth quarter from about 2% in 2006 as a whole, according to Inside Mortgage Finance, a trade publication. That is increasing the risk to taxpayers if the FHA’s reserves prove inadequate to cover default losses.

FHA Cash Cushion Has Fallen by 39% – The latest annual audit of the Federal Housing Administration shows a steep drop in the capital cushion the U.S. agency holds against losses from mortgage defaults.

As lenders shy away from risk, the number of loans insured by the agency has soared in recent months, fueling concerns it may be taking on too much risk.

If the FHA runs short of money to pay claims, Congress would have to provide taxpayer funds to make up the difference.

MBA Delinquency Survey

The Mortgage Bankers Association report on delinquency rates (loans that are at least one payment past due) shows the real potential for how many defaults the FHA could be facing.

Change from last quarter (second quarter of 2008)

The seasonally adjusted delinquency rate increased 41 basis points to 4.34 percent for prime loans, increased 136 basis points to 20.03 percent for subprime loans, increased 29 basis points to 12.92 percent for FHA loans.

FHA loans saw an eight basis point increase in the foreclosure inventory rate to 2.32 percent.

The delinquency rate includes loans that are at least one payment past due but does not include loans somewhere in the process of foreclosure.

Add the percentage of FHA loans in the foreclosure process to the total loans that are delinquent at least one month and we have a total default/delinquency rate of 15.24%.  Something is clearly wrong with the FHA loan program and another major bailout of a federal lending agency seems inevitable.  Let’s examine some data from an excellent article by Whistleblower to understand why the FHA default rate is so high.

FHA Delinquency Crisis: 1 in 6 Borrowers in Default

At a time when borrowers, lenders, regulators, and lawmakers are scurrying for cover from the subprime lending crisis, a new crisis appears to be emerging with FHA.
Just take a look at FHA delinquency rates:

Could FHA’s rising delinquency rate be due to FHA incorporating risky practices that have become standard in the mortgage industry? Since industry experts often cite 100% financing as being a major factor in the mortgage meltdown, let’s take a look at borrower down payment sources:

In 2008, borrower funded down payments declined 38% to total only 47% of endorsements while non-profit provided down payment assistance increased a whopping 1750% to 37% of purchase endorsements. These are staggering statistics, but could they possibly correlate with FHA’s delinquency rate? Let’s take a look.

The delinquency rate clearly rises in tandem with the increase in non-profit funded down payments. But why would down payment assistance from non-profit agencies possibly impact the delinquency rate so materially?
While legitimate non-profit agencies provide much needed assistance to deserving buyers in a manner that promotes successful homeownership, certain so-called “non-profit” agencies merely advance the borrower the down payment from the seller for a fee. Companies such as Nehemiah Corporation of America, H.A.R.T. and Ameridream are prime examples of companies that provide down payments that are dependent upon seller reimbursement. Since the down payment is seller funded, whether directly or indirectly, a Quid Pro Quo clearly exists. Furthermore, because sales prices are increased to absorb the down payment grant, down payment assistance is said to skew prices for everyone.
In 2005, HUD commissioned a study entitled “An Examination of Downpayment Gift Programs Administered By Non-Profit Organizations”. Later that year, another report titled “Mortgage Financing: Additional Action Needed to Manage Risks of FHA-Insured Loans with Down Payment Assistance” was completed by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. Both studies concluded that seller funded down payment assistance increased the cost of homeownership and real estate prices in addition to maintaining a substantially higher delinquency and default rate.

Note: The down payment assistance program was ended last year but special interest groups are lobbying for its reinstatement – see Campaign to Stop FHA Subprime.

FHA Approval Process Outsourced To FHA “Direct Endorsed Lenders”

Besides the factors mentioned above that contribute to the large amount of FHA defaults there is also the issue of the unique manner in which the FHA “outsources” the loan approval process.   The FHA does not directly approve loans but instead allows this to be done by HUD “direct endorsed FHA lenders”.  The direct FHA lenders are in turn supposed to follow lending standards set by the FHA.  Problems arise with this arrangement since loans can be underwritten and approved by the direct FHA lender’s own staff, an obvious conflict of interest.  The lender only makes money on loans that are approved.  This process is equivalent to leaving the bank vault unlocked and unguarded.

Theoretically, the FHA has the responsibility for policing the lenders who can approve FHA loans.   In practice, FHA oversight is almost nonexistent.    In the past two years, as the number of FHA lenders has doubled to almost 2,500 lenders, the FHA supervisory office has had no staffing increase.  If the FHA was fulfilling their supervisory responsibilities properly, the default rate would not be at a staggering 16% and outrageous examples of fraud and abuse in the FHA lending system would not be occurring.  Consider the curious case of the large number of FHA loans experiencing first payment defaults (the borrower never makes a single payment).

The Next Hit – Quick Defaults

In the past year alone, the number of borrowers who failed to make more than a single payment before defaulting on FHA-backed mortgages has nearly tripled, far outpacing the agency’s overall growth in new loans, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal data.

Many industry experts attribute the jump in these instant defaults to factors that include the weak economy, lax scrutiny of prospective borrowers and most notably, foul play among unscrupulous lenders looking to make a quick buck.

If a loan “is going into default immediately, it clearly suggests impropriety and fraudulent activity,” said Kenneth Donohue, the inspector general of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which includes the FHA.

Once again, thousands of borrowers are getting loans they do not stand a chance of repaying. Only now, unlike in the subprime meltdown, Congress would have to bail out the lenders if the FHA cannot make good on guarantees from its existing reserves.

More than 9,200 of the loans insured by the FHA in the past two years have gone into default after no or only one payment, according to the Post analysis. The pace of these instant defaults has tripled in one year.

The overall default rate on FHA loans is accelerating rapidly as well but not as dramatically as that of instant defaults.

Under the FHA’s own rules, there’s a presumption of fraud or material misrepresentation if loans default after borrowers make no more than one payment. In those cases, the lenders are required by the FHA to investigate what went awry and notify the agency of any suspected fraud. But the agency’s efforts at pursuing abusive lenders have been hamstrung. Once, about 130 HUD investigators teamed with FBI agents in an FHA fraud unit, but this office was dismantled in 2003 after the FHA’s business dwindled in the housing boom.

William Apgar, senior adviser to new HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, agreed that early defaults are a worrisome sign that a lender is abusing FHA-backed loans.

The Palm Hill Condominiums project near West Palm Beach, Fla., exemplifies the problem. The two-story stucco apartments built 28 years ago on former Everglades swampland were converted to condominiums three years ago. The complex had the same owner as an FHA-approved mortgage company Great Country Mortgage of Coral Gables, whose brokers pushed no-money-down, no-closing-cost loans to prospective buyers of the condos, according to Michael Tanner, who is identified on a company Web site as a senior loan officer.

Eighty percent of the Great Country loans at the project have defaulted, a dozen after no payment or one. With 64 percent of all its loans gone bad, Great Country has the highest default rate of any FHA lender, according to the agency’s database. It also has the highest instant default rate.

Some of the country’s largest and most established lenders are so concerned about this new threat to the credit market that they are not waiting for the FHA to tighten its requirements. Instead, they are imposing new rules on the brokers they work with. Wells Fargo and Bank of America, for instance, now require higher credit scores on certain FHA loan transactions and better on-time payment history.

Some experts who track FHA lending say the agency should not wait for lenders to take the lead on toughening the rules, especially given the mortgage industry’s poor track record for policing subprime and other risky home loans.

“Even if the market eventually gets these guys, they shouldn’t have to wait for the market to do it,” said Brian Chappelle, a former FHA official who is now a banking industry consultant. “The most frequent question I get asked by the groups I talk to is: ‘Is FHA going to implode?’ . . . They haven’t seen HUD do anything significant in the past two years to tighten up its lending.”

FHA Losses Mount As Regulators Snooze

The FHA escaped the financial collapse that occurred at Fannie and Freddie by an accident of circumstance.  During the lending boom, the FHA attracted few borrowers since putting a borrower into a sub prime loan was faster and more profitable.  Since the collapse of the sub prime lenders, the FHA’s share of the mortgage market has increased to around 33% today from 2% three years ago.  The reason for the big increase in loan volume is due to one factor – the FHA now has the lowest lending standards and its loan delinquencies prove it.

Will The FHA Be The Next Government Bailout?

Without immediate reform of the FHA loan program, the FHA will be the next lending disaster and government bailout.  The flawed lending policies that will eventually cause the collapse of the FHA include:

1. Minimal or no down payment purchases.  Study after study has shown the correlation between low down payments and increased mortgage defaults.

2. Lax lending standards.  FHA loans are routinely approved with low credit scores and insufficient income, resulting in high default rates.

3. Allowing the use of “direct endorsed lenders” who approve FHA loans without adequate oversight by the FHA is an invitation to fraud and abuse.  The direct FHA lenders have a vested financial interest in approving unqualified loan applicants – the results can be seen in the number of first payment defaults and loan delinquencies.

Putting borrowers into homes that they cannot afford is an injustice to the homeowner and perpetuates the foreclosure cycle.  The cost of the FHA losses to the taxpayer is a an expense we cannot afford.  It is time to rein in the FHA’s irresponsible lending practices.

Two More Massive Investment Frauds Reported

Capital Vaporized By Hedge Fund Fraud

How many more frauds are lurking out there?   Two more large cases of investment fraud by hedge fund managers were reported today by The Wall Street Journal.

In the latest round of financial-fraud allegations to erupt, two money managers have been accused of misappropriating at least $553 million, and using it to fund a lifestyle of lavish homes, horses and even an $80,000 collectible teddy bear.

The two men, Paul Greenwood, 61 years old, of North Salem, N.Y., and Stephen Walsh, 64, of Sands Point, N.Y., were arrested by Federal Bureau of Investigation agents and face criminal charges of conspiracy, securities fraud and wire fraud by the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Court documents list several companies as being controlled by the two men, including WG Trading Co. and WG Trading Investors LP in Greenwich, Conn., and Westridge Capital Management Inc., based in Santa Barbara, Calif. They owned Westridge with another individual, prosecutors say.

Westridge Capital managed $1.8 billion in assets, the firm told the SEC in an adviser-registration filing in January. It oversaw a total of 20 accounts primarily for institutions including pension funds, charitable foundations and hedge funds, according to the filing. It lists Messrs. Walsh and Greenwood as principals since 1999.

Alleged victims include Carnegie Mellon University, which had invested more than $49 million, and the University of Pittsburgh, which put in more than $65 million, court records show. The Iowa Public Employees Retirement System said it had invested about $339 million, or 2% of its portfolio. The Sacramento County Employees’ Retirement System in California said on its Web site that it had invested $89.9 million, or 1.6% of its total fund.

The case marks the latest in a series of scandals, topped by Bernard Madoff, who authorities say admitted in December to masterminding a $50 billion Ponzi scheme. Other cases include R. Allen Stanford, a Texas financier who has been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of an $8 billion fraud involving certificates of deposit, and Marc Dreier, a prominent New York lawyer charged in an alleged $400 million hedge-fund scam.

If proved, the latest case “will be the biggest direct hedge-fund fraud we’ve seen,” according to Chris Addy of Montreal-based Castle Hall Alternatives, which provides risk-assessment services for investors in hedge funds.

Separately, another alleged fraud began unfolding Wednesday when the U.S. attorney charged hedge-fund manager James Nicholson with securities and bank fraud in U.S. District Court in Manhattan. Prosecutors don’t have a clear idea of the size of the alleged loss, saying only that as much as $900 million could have been invested with his firm.

Is Anything Safe?

Investors have to be wondering if there is any safe place left to invest their capital.  Stocks are down 50% and there seems to be another major investment fraud reported almost daily with total losses well over $100 billion and counting.

Large investment losses, loss of confidence and a weak economy restrict investment and risk taking which further impede economic recovery.  It looks like it’s time to take Will Rogers advice and be more concerned with return of capital rather than return on capital.

Stanford Financial Investigated

Investors Flunk “Too Good To Be True” Test Again

“You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out” – Warren Buffet

The tide has been going out for several years now and we are discovering that many of the biggest players never owned bathing attire.   Tight credit and massive erosion in asset values have exposed the mismanaged or fraudulently run operations that previously papered over their flaws with more credit.    Investors in Stanford Financial, who apparently ignored the common sense rule of “if it’s too good to be true it’s probably not” are likely to be in for a massive shock of reality this week.

According to BusinessWeek, The Stanford Group may hold as much as $50 billion in assets.

Is Stanford’s Financial Offer To Good To Be True?

Financier R. Allen Stanford makes investors an enticing offer: He sells supposedly super-safe certificates of deposit with interest rates more than twice the market average. His firm says it generates the impressive returns by investing the CD money largely in corporate stocks, real estate, hedge funds, and precious metals.

But skeptical federal and state regulators are now taking a hard look at Stanford’s operation—especially those CDs, whose underlying investments seem questionable. Over the past 12 months, the stock market and hedge funds have lost huge amounts of value even as Houston-based Stanford Financial Group continued to pay out above-average returns and claimed to have boosted the assets it oversees by 30%, to more than $50 billion.

BusinessWeek has learned that the Securities & Exchange Commission, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a major private-sector oversight body, are all investigating Stanford Financial. The probes focus on the high-yield CDs and the investment strategy behind them. According to people close to the investigations, the three agencies are also looking at how Stanford Financial could afford to give employees large bonuses, luxury cars, and expensive vacations. Selling CDs typically is a low-margin business.

Jittery

In the wake of Bernard Madoff’s alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme, regulators and investors around the world are increasingly jittery about money-management firms that promise consistently higher-than-normal returns.

Stanford’s CDs, which require a minimum investment of $50,000, offer tantalizing interest rates. The current rate on a one-year CD is roughly 4.5%, according to the bank’s Web site. The average at U.S. banks is about 2%, notes research firm Bankrate.com (RATE). A year ago, the offshore bank sold five-year CDs that yielded 7.03%; the industry average hovered around 3.9%.

The firm suggests in marketing material that it can offer substantially higher rates because the bank benefits from Antigua’s low taxes and modest overhead costs, among other factors. The bank invests in a “well-diversified portfolio of highly marketable securities issued by stable governments, strong multinational companies, and major international banks,” the marketing literature says.

But Stanford Financial and its affiliated bank, both of which are owned by Allen Stanford, offer few details about the nature of those holdings. According to the bank’s 2007 annual report, stocks, precious metals, and alternative investments—such as hedge funds and real estate—account for 75% of the bank’s portfolio.

Stanford’s CDs lack the government insurance that backs certificates issued by U.S. banks.

The financials of the offshore bank are audited by a tiny accounting firm (14 employees) in Antigua called C.A.S. Hewlett & Co.

The offshore bank’s seven-member board of directors is dominated by Stanford insiders, family, and friends.

Stanford brokers who sold at least $2 million of CDs in a quarter kept 2% of the assets, says Hazlett. That’s much more than competitors generally pay their sales forces on such investments. “The primary thing they cared about were CDs,” says Hazlett. “That was all they talked about in meetings with brokers.” But the high yields “never made any sense to me,” he adds. “I never understood how they could generate the performance to justify those rates.”

Funding Commitments Pulled, CD Redemptions Delayed, Assets Invested In Illiquid Securities

An offshore bank at the center of two U.S. federal investigations recently curtailed financing commitments to two small American companies, regulatory filings show.

Some Stanford International representatives have been recently advising clients that they can’t redeem their CDs for two months, a person familiar with the matter said.

But SEC filings show that the Antigua bank also holds majority stakes in a handful of thinly traded American firms.

Stanford Financial Gets More Scrutiny – FBI and SEC Investigate

An investigation into wealthy financier R. Allen Stanford’s operations is intensifying, with the FBI looking into his financial group in the U.S. and regulators in Antigua scheduled to visit his bank there.

Another person familiar with the investigation said the SEC has been looking at the certificate-of-deposit business since at least 2007.

Those people say the agencies now are focusing on certificates of deposit, which are marketed by the financial group’s wealth-management arm and sold by Mr. Stanford’s Antiguan bank. The CDs offer unusually high returns; for example, as of Nov. 28, a one-year, $100,000 CD paid 4.5%.

“The first thing that grabs your eye is the business model,” says Alex Dalmady, an analyst who unveiled concerns about Stanford International Bank in the magazine VenEconomy Monthly but isn’t involved in the investigation. “Taking deposits and playing the stock market — this is way too risky. “

Stanford Blames “Disgruntled Workers”

Feb. 13 (Bloomberg) — R. Allen Stanford, the billionaire chairman of Houston-based investment firm Stanford Group Co., blamed “former disgruntled employees” for stoking regulatory probes into his firm.

Stanford Group pushed its financial advisers to steer clients’ money into the offshore CDs, paying a 1 percent bonus commission and offering prizes including trips and cash for the best producers, according to four former advisers who asked not to be identified.

Marketing material for Stanford Group CDs raised red flags, said Bob Parrish, a financial planner and accountant in Longboat Key, Florida.

The use of the term “CD” to describe the investment was misleading because most investors associate it with a safe, FDIC- insured instrument, Parrish said.

SIB describes the CDs in its disclosure statement as traditional bank deposits. The bank doesn’t lend proceeds and instead invests in a mix of equities, metals, currencies and derivatives, according to its Web site and CD disclosures.

Warning Signs Ignored By All

Yields offered at twice the market average, offshore accounts, huge commissions paid to brokers to draw in more cash, SEC investigation since 2007, extravagant corporate lifestyles, assets invested in hedge funds, real estate, stocks and alternative (illiquid) investments which have all fallen 40 – 50% in value, frantic efforts to raise additional funds, previous regulatory investigations and risky business model.  It is not hard to see the ending to this story.  Once again regulators and investors have shown extraordinary carelessness and disregard of information that was readily available for scrutiny.

This is probably not another Ponzi scheme similar to Bernard Madoff.  It seems more like a case of poor asset management leading to large losses which management then attempted to cover up with additional investor funding.   The end result, however, will be the same as for those who invested with Madoff – a significant loss on their investments.

Satyam’s Phony $1 Billion – How They Did It

One would think that with the number of business frauds, Ponzi schemes and other financial deceptions exposed over the last decade that auditors would have a more skeptical and cautious attitude.

The Satyam case is particularly perplexing when considering one of the major fraud aspects of the case.  Satyam reported cash balances of approximately $1.11 billion when in fact they had 94% less, or only around $66.6 million.

What makes this fraudulent reporting of cash balances so strange is how the auditors could possibly miss over a billion dollars.   Verifying cash balances is a routine step in the audit process.   In addition, routine “topside” analytical procedures are usually employed to verify that a large number on the balance sheet makes sense.

For example, if a company reports a cash balance of $1 billion dollars, does that cash balance look reasonable compared to the interest income reported?    A quick check on what rate of interest the company was earning should have resulted in determining if the interest income the company reported from its cash holdings was reasonable.  Perhaps Satyam fraudulently inflated the income earned on their phantom cash as well, in which case this procedure may not have lead to suspicion.  A routine financial audit is not conducted with the intention of discovering management fraud.

Verifying cash balances , however, is an entirely different matter.  Cash balances are easily verified by sending a balance confirmation request directly to the banking institutions in which the cash is held.   Cash confirmations are a simple and routine audit procedure.  A company holding over $1 billion in cash and conducting business worldwide would have accounts with many different banks.  The odds of having someone at many different banks intercept and falsify a bank confirmation is highly unlikely; so how did the auditors miss $1 billion?

The most plausible explanation is that the auditors did not comply with standard audit procedures.   Once the bank confirmations are prepared by the auditors, procedure requires that they be taken directly to the postal service by the auditors.  Instead, I suspect that a very cooperative and friendly staff at Satyam offered to take care of mailing the bank confirmations, thereby saving the auditor the extra effort of independently mailing the confirms.   This breakdown in a routine audit procedure most likely resulted in the bank confirms never being mailed to the banks. The confirmations were retained and fraudulently completed by Satyam, and then mailed back to the unsuspecting auditor.  The doctored confirmations examined by the auditors matched what the company said they had in cash and everyone was satisfied.

Result: simple audit rule violated and huge fraud goes undetected.