albert_gonzalezA  Miami man, Albert Gonzalez, 28, his motto is “operation get rich or die trying”. Two Russians and Albert Gonzalez are being indicted for allegedly stealing 130 million credit card numbers, the largest identity theft in history. That’s a lot of credit card numbers — like, one for every housing unit in the United States. Just how did they do it?

The historic theft involved five corporate data hackings, between 2006 and 2008, including Heartland, Hannaford, 7-Eleven and two unnamed companies, according to Channel Web. US investigators say the team scanned lists of Fortune 500 companies and learned about their checkout counter machines (also known as point-of-sale systems).

Then they would write specific codes to corrupt their data systems and launch a virus from computers in the United States and Europe to pull hundreds and thousands of credit card numbers, and sort through them using a “sniffer,” which is basically a data analysis system that decodes big chunks of information.
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This is a real world situation that could impact each of you as professionals, investors, and friends of persons who could fall for such schemes. So please get angry about it!

An envelope arrived yesterday from a worried investor (not a client of mine) in Appleton, Wisconsin. He had been contacted with an “investment partner” opportunity touting a “guaranteed investment program” that would absolutely “double and triple his money every sixty days” with no worries, work, or risk involved.

So why was this total stranger contacting me?

Inside the envelope were four separate documents: (1) a call for twenty-five new investors who would become partners in this special, private, guaranteed investment program, and (2) an endorsement of the program from Helen Taylor, the founder of ResponseLink Pros, Inc.
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weddingWould you marry a bachelor with a million dollars? My friends used to raise the same question when we were kids. What usually sparked a debate was the ensuing query: What if that man or woman is ugly and cruel? Obviously, we were totally clueless about romance and marriage back then.

Now, friends still raise the issue from time to time, but discussions have taken a different twist. “Would you marry for love or money?” They now ask.

I just found a report that attempts to answer the million-dollar question. According to “Marriage for love of money” at Wall Street Journal, two-thirds of women and half the men said they would marry for money.

When asked about their “price” to see them walk down the aisle, the singles said it would have to be over $1 million to $2 million in net worth.

But isn’t love the end-all and be-all of happiness? Doesn’t almost every chick-flick end with a blushing bride marrying the “man with a good heart” and they live happily ever after? Not necessarily. It’s the marriage that comes in bundles of money that lasts.

That’s at least according to Daniela Drake, a former McKinsey consultant, who recently raised the issue in her piece in Reuters. Are women better off marrying for money?

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ob-cz950_madbro_d_20090123220849Until now, the official line is that the two Madoff sons, Mark and Andrew, only worked on the market-making side of the business.

Dad’s business — Bernie Madoff Investment Securities — was not their domain, they say, and thus they have nothing to do with the fraud. For a long time, people have suspected this wasn’t true, but a story in offers the best evidence yet. Far from just being in the back office on the brokerage side of the business, the sons were salesman for the Madoff fund:

Dalton Givens saw the warning signs.

Madoff’s sons wined and dined Givens, then a senior vice president of Wachovia Securities, at a steakhouse in Charlotte, N.C., to try to persuade Wachovia to invest in Madoff’s hedge fund.

Givens, now retired from the firm and living in Boonville, said he took a few sniffs and didn’t like the aroma.

Read the whole thing >

This is new. There have never been reports of the sons going out to sell the fund, let alone wining and dining bankers. Obviously, if they thought the fund was legitimate, then there’s nothing wrong with selling it. But obviously their involvement is more than they’ve let on, which means everything else they’ve said should be suspect.

photo-theftA company’s ownership of its equipment, furnishings and supplies, as well as its employees’ time, would seem to be an obvious fact. To appropriate company property is theft, or if money – then embezzlement.

But if we look closer, we will see that some form of corporate theft is happening every day in every workplace, and it may be difficult to know what is theft and what is not. Perhaps you phone your husband from the office. That’s technically theft of facilities but widely accepted everywhere. Charging-up your cell-phone is using the company’s electricity. If you work in a clothing factory, there’ll be clothes that can’t be sold, owing to faulty cutting or stitching. But they can still be worn, and if you don’t take them, they’ll just go in the bin. That perhaps seems reasonable enough – except that it could encourage dishonest workers to produce rejects to order!

Consider the theft of usable merchandise. I once knew a storeman in a small bakery who liked to bake his own bread at home, and the manager was happy to let him have a bucket of dough every few weeks. As nobody else was involved, there were no complaints. However, this kind of gesture could be taken, by the bakery owner, as theft, i.e. supplying or taking company property without payment or authority.

And scale is the key to this issue – the danger of small pilfering turning into something more serious, i.e. serious theft.
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madoff_webA judge decided today that the accused mastermind of what is allegedly the largest Ponzi scheme in history will remain free on a $10 million bond but will continue to be under house arrest at his posh Manhattan penthouse.

U.S. prosecutors had asked that Madoff be jailed while awaiting trial on a federal fraud charge. U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Ellis ruled that Madoff was not a flight risk and did not pose a threat to society.

Prosecutors had requested that his bail be revoked because Madoff had mailed more than $1 million in jewelry and heirlooms to people over the holidays and apparently had written, but not mailed, millions of dollars of checks to people.

The decision is sure to further outrage investors who have been clamoring for Madoff to be sent to jail for allegedly carrying out the largest financial fraud in history. Prosecutors said the gifts were grounds to have his bail revoked because what’s left of Madoff’s assets will have to be returned to burned investors.

According to the report, Madoff’s new bail conditions include an inventory of his personal property and searches of his mail. The judge ruled that federal prosecutors failed to prove their contention that Madoff posed risks sufficient to merit his incarceration pending trial.

The anxiously awaited decision does put further restrictions on Madoff, including forcing him to come up with a list of items at his apartment and allowing a security firm to check on the items. The security company will also be allowed to search all outgoing mail from Madoff to ensure that no property has been transferred.
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another-1200-jobs-may-be-axed-at-struggling-lehman-brothers-415x2751The scandal around the so called investment guru Madoff is the second big case in this year as masses of people have lost their fortune. The first case was the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers. Many people are lured to invest their money in financial market instruments that promise attractive yields. These instruments are, however, as opaque as black boxes.

Hedge funds as black holes

Hedge funds bet with complex structures of derivatives. Most of them lack the transparency. The common investors do not understand how they work. Institutional investors usually invest in funds of hedge funds. Their managers claim to be capable of picking the promising funds. Funds of funds absorb a cascade of fees that have to be subtracted from the yield.

There is a wide variety of investment styles among the hedge funds. It seems that the general lack of transparency of the hedge funds industry has made it possible that the Madoff Ponzi could remain undetected for such a long time. The Madoff scandal demonstrates also a failure of the SEC as well as of the involved audit firms.

Hedge funds should correlate with other asset classes, e.g. stocks or bonds, according to the theory. The fact is: Hedge funds have badly performed during the actual financial crisis. The global hedge-fund industry lost $64 billion of assets in November 2008 says Bloomberg.

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Americans are giving up their dogs and cats to animal shelters in growing numbers as the emotional bonds between people and pets get tested by economic ones.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have a big job at hand and recently began a program called Help Out Pets Everywhere (HOPE) to provide food, medical care and temporary homes for pets belonging to families with financial difficulties. They received about eighteen applications in the first week, some of those people have never experienced hardship until now, and therefore, neither have their pets.

A man who turned his two dogs over in order to help pay for his mother’s cancer treatments, to the New York woman who euthanized her cat rather than keeping it alive with expensive medications, rising economic anxieties make it increasingly difficult for some pet owners to justify spending $1,000 a year or more on pet food, veterinary services and other costs.

The population growth at animal shelters shows how the weak economy is also shrinking the pool of potential adopters. And it coincides with a drop-off in government funding and charitable donations.

The effect has been cramped quarters for dogs and cats, a faster rate of shelters euthanizing animals and some shelters turning away people looking to surrender pets, according to interviews with several shelters and animal advocates. Of the estimated 6 million to 8 million dogs and cats sent to animal shelters every year, half are euthanized and the rest adopted, according to the Humane Society of the United States.


We know that there will always be swindlers in the world, particularly when money is at stake. What is surprising in the Madoff case is the magnitude and durability of the confidence game and the wealth and importance of many of the investors who went along for the ride, based largely on personal trust.

Madoff will go down in history along with Charles Ponzi, who gave his name to these pyramid schemes in the 1920’s. Ponzi may have been the first, but Madoff was the biggest. Look up Charles Ponzi in Wikipedia.

The US financial regulatory body will launch an in-house investigation into why it failed to detect Bernard Madoff’s massive alleged fraud, despite almost a decade of warning signs.

“The Securities and Exchange Commission, a once-proud agency with an impressive history as Wall Street’s top cop finds itself increasingly conducting autopsies of leading financial institutions after failing, in the first instance, to perform adequate biopsies.

The issue arises as to whether investors in such a fund should be insured in any way, not against losses resulting from market activity (those are business risks), but from losses through embezzlement, for example, if someone stealing the corpus of their fund, or if there is no fund.

Securities and Exchange Commission chairman Christopher Cox said the SEC “has learned that credible and specific allegations regarding Mr Madoff’s financial wrongdoing, going back to at least 1999, were repeatedly brought to the attention of SEC staff”.
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The Rescue Plan. Is my money safe at the Bank?

Well to be honest, I would like to say yes. If you asked me the same question some months months ago, I would have undoubtedly said yes. Now however I actually have a sliver of doubt. It’s true that the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) pledges to insure your money.

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