These days, there certainly are a lot of scammers out there, and to the slightly gullible (or most desperate) individual all of their offers may look like welcome, legal opportunities to make a fortune. On the other hand, there certainly are a number of serious business opportunities available to your “average Joe” that may look to the notoriously sceptical (or just–not–so–desperate) individual like rip–offs.
“Tesler Investments”, to name but one, has “fraud” written all over it in bright red capitals. Yet “Tesler” and “Steven Abrahams” are merely the bait.
“Tesler delivers promises”, their website states — and that’s, if taken to be meant transitively, even true — but it is about all they actually do, and their mission is accomplished at the instant you hit that “sign up” button. This three–word slogan and anything beyond it is just digital smoke and secondhand mirrors.
The precious reader may know the old saying, “something is too good to be true”. Well, this thing is different in that it is not nearly good enough to be “the real deal”.
How Would I Know?
You may wonder how I can be so sure about it. Well, “Steven Abrahams”, the “inventor” of the “Tesler Principle” and its “lead patterns”, himself told me so. No, seriously … He “told” me right away.
The unfathomable wisdom of Facebook’s algorithm, apparently employed to spam — sorry, advertise — the daylight out of the unsuspecting user, led me to Tesler’s website (affectionately called “the advertisement” by one of the would–be fraudsters I later happened to interview via e–mail).
“Steven”, of course, has “his” own Facebook page, and the algorithm concluded, for one reason or another, that I might be interested in this particular scheme (Facebook was insofar right, as most long–time writers develop a gut feeling for promising stories — yet I wonder whether this one was what everyone involved had in mind).
The “website” (which has numerous mirrors, of course) provides, most prominently placed, a promotional video and a registration form right next to it. The instant I saw this layout, my darkest suspicions were confirmed. “Fraud”, my guts growled. Yet my curiosity was aroused, I wanted to see what gives.
Even though I took notes, read all documents available to the general public, and watched the video twice, I’m fairly certain I still missed quite a number of hints.
In fact, the presentation of the “Tesler App” contains so many leads and inconsistencies that it practically warns the precious, soon–to–be millionaire visitor constantly to steer clear of this “opportunity”. (To be honest, I did initially think this might be an online tutorial of sorts to help the unsuspecting audience spot and avoid online scams.)
Gerry’s Scam–Spotting Tip #1: If a pitch video comes with a registration form next to it, run. Terminate the browser session, delete the cache (if need be), and resume watching cute cats videos.
If, however, you feel you cannot pass up the opportunity to check out the offer, watch the video at least twice — and make sure you watched it with and without sound before you go ahead and do something foolish (like giving away personal information). If technically possible, download the video and watch it offline (in full–screen mode).
The Devil Is in the Details
Granted, with most of those “irresistible offers” it takes advanced knowledge in various fields to instantly spot the blunders. Therefore, lateral thinking (and emotional distance) is paramount when attempting to determine their real value.
The devil is in the details. More often than not, a number of individual aspects fail to fall into place: cross references do not match, the story you are told does not correlate with the story you are shown, and other (sometimes glaring) mistakes that might go unnoticed when considered individually.
I decided against giving you a step–by–step review, as there are simply too many bloopers to provide you with smooth reading this way.
Thus, I shall analyse what information may be derived from putting certain aspects discussed in the presentation into greater context. No worries, once you will have considered the inconsistencies listed here, you will most certainly recognise them whenever you happen to encounter them again.
Gerry’s Scam–Spotting Tip #2: No matter how desperate you are for the money (or whatever you are offered and consider desirable), keep your emotional distance.
The whole point of a scam is to exploit your most urgent needs and to push you toward thoughtless actions.
The “Company”, Its “Founder”, and the “Broker”
The body text of the website informs the precious visitor that “Tesler Investments” is not a broker, the actual trading is (allegedly) carried out by a brokerage firm on their behalf.
Unfortunately, “Mr Midas of Wall Street” completely “forgot” to tell us which one of the numerous professional brokers out there trading options this might be. (It later turned out that the “broker” is — or at least pretends to be — based in Tallinn, Estonia and does not hold a trading licence in the United States or elsewhere on this planet.)
There is no registration statement, business record, board of directors, or roll of employees for “Tesler Investments”, sometimes also called “Tesler LLC” or “Tesler Trading”, to be found. EDGAR does not list a registered enterprise under this name or any of the variations mentioned above (or this Steven Abrahams, for that matter).
This is insofar strange, as “Steven Abrahams” is supposed to be a former Wall Street broker who invented a system to optimise online options trading to the point of “losing only once every 98 trades” (if you consider this an awkward way of defining one’s success ratio, you are perfectly right).
The only “Steven Abrahams” (in capital investment) to be found on official records is Steven Wayne Abrahams, a registered hedge fund manager, former analyst at Deutsche Bank, co–founder and CEO of Milepost Capital Management, based in New York City, and easily fifteen years “our Steven’s” senior.
The one supposed to be your financial saviour, on the other hand, seems to be perfectly unknown to The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, or any of the “many reputable magazines” who have allegedly discussed him or his fabulous system.
Gerry’s Scam–Spotting Tip #3: If someone is anxious to drop (big) names, take their offering and bring it to the Internet’s altar of wisdom and trivia. Fire up your favourite search engine and see whether the lambs can stand the heat.
If they all return to their “owner” (and nowhere but) immediately, forget the offer and run.
Name Similarities and Highly Questionable Testimonials
The tactics all of these online schemes employ become obvious rather quickly when one bothers to look them up via the search engine of one’s choice.
The names of the systems and their “inventors” may sound kind of familiar. In Tesler’s case, I think I do not have to elaborate the matter much further — it is safe to assume that there is hardly an individual out there who will not make the mental leap to Tesla — and “Steven” himself, I discussed already.
These similarities are not only meant to build a first bond of trust between the scheme and its potential victims, they are also supposed to trick search engines into blending references to the scam smoothly into search results for the real thing (and vice versa).
This promises some success by confusing those who are not familiar with either enterprise to “jump the wrong bus”.
Yet “Tesler” is surprisingly daft when it comes to this name game. Whoever came up with this nonsense decided to choose a name that not only bears no reference to its alleged inventor, but also bears (too) obvious resemblance to one of the biggest crazes of our time.
Moreover, they managed to design two different logos (for the same thing) that don’t even look similar to one another — one at least tries to mimic the Tesla logo to some extent, though.
Others usually name their “inventors” after more or less (but never too well) known artists: musicians, authors, etc. That’s not particularly smart but, seeing that people tend to find it easier to connect with people when they seem to recognise someone’s name, comprehensible to some extent.
Commissioned testimonials appear to be inseparable aspects of the same venture, pursuing the same goal: pushing the clueless visitor to join the band by building (unjustified) trust in the scheme.
In this particular case, I have to admit that I had the advantages of being a bit of a photography buff and having uncanny face recognition skills — especially when it comes to recognise gorgeous women. (My memory for names and birthdays, on the other hand, has never really been anything to write home about. To compensate this deficit, I use Facebook — or, at least, such was the idea. If only their notification system were as effective and reliable as I had hoped.)
I had once seen a “selfie session” a model called Maggie Nguyen had shot for a photographer in 2014. (Search for “Maggie Nguyen #selfiesunday” — without the quotes — and you will come across the very photo used for one of Tesler’s “testimonies” in a matter of seconds.)
If you were not born just yesterday, you will have heard already that certain platforms exist, most prominently “Fiverr”, where freelance “talents” offer their services to everyone willing to employ them in return for a more or less small compensation.
Serious offers will also provide testimonials, but these individuals are easily identified as genuine users, because their testimonies usually come with names and positions known in their respective industry. (For comparison, visit the website of “Signal”, the messenger system — to name but one.)
Gerry’s Scam–Spotting Tip #4: If someone agrees to give testimony, they take the risk to be liable. At the very least, they risk their own reputation.
Check whether these individuals could — at least theoretically – be professionally affiliated or in the position to recommend the product for its quality.
The Careful Use of Language and Ambiguous Keywords
Marketers live by the use of careful language. After all, their job is to convert random visitors into buyers. Every marketer worth his salt knows that the targeted audience tends to hear what appears most desirable, regardless of what’s actually been said. Consequently, it is not surprising that many offers may be interpreted in more than one way.
I already mentioned the catchy slogan, “Tesler delivers promises”, and I said, “it’s about all they do”. That’s good enough for many potential clients, because the slogan appears to convey the message that “Tesler delivers on [their] promises”. Yet this is not exactly what the slogan “promises”.
Call me a nitpicker, and the difference in meaning legally irrelevant, but I have a notion that this would be their defence strategy, if anyone actually bothered to take the inventors of this scheme to court. I honestly doubt that the effort would render any success, though, as it is not even proven who, or where, or how many these are.
My action — I will report and discuss it in another part — caused only one actor to emerge from the fog; but who can say whether or not this venture has more than one front, really?
As for published “reviews”, however, the Tesler scheme manages to take this windy business to a whole new level (of stupidity). After reading more than two or three reviews, being “desperate for the offered money” does not really serve as a plausible excuse to fall for the promises anymore.
Arguably in an attempt to dispel any doubts as to the seriousness of his offer, “Steven” runs a blog “discussing” the Tesler App. This in itself were not necessarily suspicious, blogs have become a popular tool to explain any one venture in greater detail.
The problems with “Steven’s” Tesler App blog are, on the one hand, the author’s apparent effort to convince the reader that his product is “not a scam” (Why would anyone even bother to do so, if it wasn’t a scam?), and on the other, the poor language employed.
According to the pitch video, “Steven” is a literate, even well–educated adult American, but parts of the website and the articles “he” published read as though they had been translated using one online service or another. (Nothing wrong with these services, but why would an American translate his own articles into English — and how would he not realise that the result is crap?)
If you watch the video, you will soon realise that the person talking to you is a native speaker and that the script was written by someone who knows a thing or two about American diction (even though the dialogues are a bit bumpy).
“Steven” did not convince me (especially when I watched the video without sound), but, given the working conditions (I will address these in a few minutes), his performance was not half bad.
Yet, the person talking to you in the video is under no circumstances the “Steven Abrahams” who runs the blog.
You don’t have to be a native speaker yourself — even rudimentary English skills should suffice to recognise that both style and diction are completely different — to realise this. The writing person displays none of the characteristics of the speaking person.
“Steven” is talking shite (if you pardon my French), but he’s talking straight shite, while the blog reads like scrambled crap. Hardly a sentence makes sense — neither individually nor when considered in the proposed context.
If one bothers to dig a bit deeper, it turns out that a fair number of these articles are merely keyword dumps. The same is true for several allegedly independent “reviews”. They all try hard to appear like serious reviewers who routinely check “business opportunities” in the field of online trading on their readers’ behalf, but are too anxious to prove that Tesler is the real thing.
(Why would they do so, if they were independent reviewers? And why would none of them bother to find the “many mentions in reputable capital finance magazines” and publish a facsimile excerpt of at least one of those articles, instead of incessantly repeating that these articles exist?)
I tried to find at least one reference to the Tesler App or this Steven Abrahams in the online archives of the “reputable magazines” repeatedly mentioned — but no success. Not one word, let alone a sentence or even an entire article dedicated to either did emerge. This is strange, seeing that the Tesler App is a relatively new “phenomenon” — and a fundamental game changer, no less. The only “Tesler” The Wall Street Journal discussed was one Jeffrey Tesler who managed to get caught paying USD 180 million to members of the Nigerian government.
What did emerge in this context is an astounding pattern: There seem to be a number of — real or assumed — personae who publish articles in support of certain schemes across the internet. And at least some of these seem to have contributed to online magazines pretending to be high finance journals. They have names similar to renowned magazines or simply act as investigative journals in this field.
If I had to venture a guess, I would say these are commissioned — as are the testimonials; and from the manner these “serious contributions” have been executed, I would look for some troll farms where templates containing the same undetected linguistic peculiarities have been copied to numerous generic servers.
The Video Is a Bag of Sweets for Movie Buffs
“Steven” is supposed to a millionaire (alleged personal net worth almost 400 million dollars), but he lacks the marketing budget to employ a director of photography who knows even the most basic rules of cinematography, a screenwriter who knows how to pen decent dialogues, and two actors capable of delivering their lines somewhat convincingly, to produce a thirty–three–minute promotional video? That’s strange, isn’t it?
If you happen to be a movie buff, you will almost instantly — say, half a minute into the first scene — realise that something about the way the video was shot and edited is funny (not the “good” funny, though).
First of all, there were two cameras used throughout the entire video, even though there was no obvious need for more than one device.
Second, the “director” (or perhaps only a cheap, stoned freelance editor) crossed the “line of action” three or four times in quick succession during the opening scene. (There are two cameras placed on the veranda, both are trained on “Kathy”, filming the scene over each of “Steven’s” shoulders alternatively.)
A few moments later, “Kathy” had just invited “Steven” (with considerable delay) into her house, you can see “Steven” approach the camera while entering the living room. Don’t get me wrong, this is not going to be a movie review, but according to the plot — yes, I am aware of the pun — this is supposed to be a surprise visit, yet there is already a camera “waiting” in the living room. (This logical blunder, by the way, may often be witnessed in so–called reality shows.)
During the rest of the video, the two cameras proved to be “Steven’s” curse, because he, as often as not, had no clue as to which of the cameras he should address.
Some Logical Blunders
So “Steven” is an American entrepreneur paying one of “his new clients” a surprise visit. This client, “Kathy”, turns out to be an American woman who happens to live in an American suburb (both details are difficult to miss).
What is wrong with this theme becomes instantly clear upon reading the disclaimers the website offers.
No one holding an American citizenship or living in the United States — just to be sure we are all on the same page: this means “every single living American around the world as well as every foreign resident of the US” — is eligible to register and become a “beta tester” for this “game–changing software” (basically, a trading robot), called “Tesler 2”.
“Kathy” is (also quite obviously) using an Apple laptop, but she needed the assistance of one of “Steven’s” minions — sorry, “Tesler’s” account managers — to download and install the Tesler App in “less than three minutes”? Is “Kathy” the stereotypical dumb blonde or is this software not quite as “click–click–simple” as “Steven” would have the audience believe?
She was told to not log in to her bank account until the following day — and let’s not forget that we are to believe that “Steven’s” call is a surprise visit — but the laptop is sitting on her table with the bank website ready to be accessed for our benefit? Even though the content of her screen is at first not visible, it is difficult to miss that she does not launch the browser, she simply enters what is supposed to be her credentials.
The Tesler robot is merely gathering “market data of the past 60 minutes before an option expires” and analysing relevant news, and calculates the odds of a successful trade in “under 8/100th of a second”. If the likelihood of closing “in the money” exceeds 93%, the robot will trade. Otherwise, it will do nothing. This is why it (practically) never shreds your money. Or so the story goes.
How, I beg, does the Tesler App gather “relevant market data of the past 60 minutes before an option expires”, if “Tesler Investments” is not a trader? How would it even know when a particular option expires — or which one to consider? To this end, it would either have to have immediate access to the market — which should not be possible for non–traders, or every idiot could easily upend the market just for the heck of it — or leverage insider information.
Why does a “beta tester” have to deposit a minimum of USD 250? If live contracts are to be closed, it has to be run by traders — people who have direct access to the market and therefore are able to trade options — to test its reliability. In this case, the traders — so they agree to even take the risk — would be the best “beta testers”. And if not, it is merely a sandbox game where no real money is necessary. The point of employing beta testers is to find bugs and vulnerabilities in a system. How could anyone with no experience in options trading evaluate the quality of this software properly?
Why would the “beta tester” have to “reboot the app” every day, if it is supposed to be automated? And why would this process take “only five minutes”? Even if “Tesler Investments” had to reboot their “mainframe in Downtown New York” every morning, it should not take much longer (if at all).
As I said earlier, there certainly are more of such oddities. These are just the few that immediately struck me as peculiar.
Here’s a fun fact: I tried to find the “Tesler App” for my Android phone, but — quelle surprise — while there is a quite overwhelming availability of trading apps, there is no such thing as a “Tesler App” to be found in any of the app stores I tried. “Tesler App”, “Tesler Trading App”, “Tesler LLC”: all my queries drew blanks — everywhere. Ain’t that funny?
Is This Even Legal?
Contrary to seemingly popular opinion, licensed options trading is legal in the United States and a few other countries. Unregulated options trading, however, is illegal in the States.
In the majority of other countries, there is no regulation for options trading, hence nulla poena sine lege applies in this respect for the time being. There is increasing concern among authorities in many jurisdictions, but in absence of applicable laws, every Jack and Jill is free to trade options online. The core problem is: Without regulations, there is also no authority to turn to if you happen to run into problems.
In options trading, you don’t trade (buy or sell) actual commodities, but merely the option to buy stocks. Simply put, the “trick” is to anticipate how these stocks will develop before an option expires.
The market value of these options is usually regulated (by the authority regulating options trading). In other words, they have a maximum value. This way, both loss and gain are strictly limited — contrary to stocks, you can neither lose nor make a fortune per contract.
It may not be illegal (and therefore not punishable) in your jurisdiction, but will, in the long run, most likely prove to be a zero–sum venture (in a best case scenario) for anyone who trades options exclusively. Options trading is a welcome and convenient way for day traders to compensate smaller losses, though.
While I personally still doubt the real benefit of online options trading for licensed brokers, I can imagine that some try to make use of “swarm instinct” (as “swarm intelligence” would be too big a term in this particular case) — like some politicians who heavily rely on polls, or prospective buyers who rely on user reviews (by people they know not the first thing about).
The longer you watch the video, the more challenges will arise — some are logical blunders (I already mentioned the most obvious ones), some may be considered “linguistic inaccuracies”, but there is also (quite obvious) deception and even a possible count (or two) of incitement to commit a crime.
If you watch the video in full–screen mode, you will instantly realise that the date you saw in the upper–left corner is gone. That’s because it is not a timestamp in the footage.
The date will always be “today’s date”, regardless of when you actually watch the presentation, because it is written into the source code of the website and positioned to appear as though it were a timestamp. This in itself does not qualify as “fraudulent behaviour”, but the question remains why the date is displayed in the first place – and why the entire website is wrapped into a frame.
The only logical answer were, that one is supposed to believe one is watching live footage (and hopefully doesn’t know how to look up the site’s source code). This notion is supported by the “randomly” appearing “updates”, telling the unsuspecting audience how many of the “strictly limited” slots are still available.
These “alerts” are statically embedded in the video. If you watch the presentation twice, you may recognise that the same amounts of places are left at the same time — always. There are:
- 9 places left at 6:33
- 8 places at 8:25
- still 8 at 15:53
- 7 at 18:07
- 6 at 20:31
- 5 at 20:45
- 4 at 25:00 and 30:06
If you replay the video on the same day (since it is supposed to be the “final day” of this incredible offer, you should not wait until “tomorrow” anyway), there should be less than 4 places left, but the “live update” seems to be magically reset to “9 places left”.
This is, at the very latest, where this “opportunity” enters a legal grey area. It is deceptive to run a prerecorded “live countdown” with the obvious intention to put pressure to act on the unsuspecting viewer — not everyone in the possession of a credit card is necessarily in the position to recognise the fraud (which is evident by the number of complaints about this and other such schemes in various help forums).
The promise that the gain is tax–free is at least questionable. The number of countries where neither regular income nor gain are taxable are few and far between.
In the United States, where this episode was obviously shot, both are taxable — and let’s not forget that “Tesler’s servers” are supposed to be located in “Downtown New York”. All this, and the fact that no licensed brokerage firm is involved should set off a battery of alarm bells — it may not be illegal to make such offers, but it sure has the looks of a dodgy venture.
Gerry’s Scam Spot Tip #5: If you are told you will rope in non–taxable money — by what means ever and regardless of the actual amount — run. If you are old enough to take up such an offer, you are also old enough to know whether or not you are living under one of the few jurisdictions where income is, at least for citizens, not taxable. Everywhere else, you will face charges for tax evasion.
US citizens (there may also be others, I don’t know) are taxable regardless of their country of residence.
In full–screen mode you will also recognise (if you stop the video at the right moment and look closely) that the date on the cover of The Wall Street Journal (“Steven” holds in his hands to “prove” that you are watching his presentation “today”) reads “January 10, 2017”.
If you stop the video when the camera focuses on “Steven’s online bank statement”, artefacts (random pixels that typically remain when people carelessly manipulate images) are clearly visible around several relevant areas: the figures “proving” the amounts he allegedly roped in, the bank’s logo, etc. This is an indisputable indicator that the audience is not shown a genuine bank statement, but rather a heavily (but not properly) processed image of one. I, for one, saw better faked student cards already (and that was in the pre–digital era).
He tells you that he did obscure certain information to protect privacy, but he made a poor job of it, really. When he “logs in” to his “wife’s bank account”, it is obvious that his username upon “log out” is different from the one he used to “log in”: “steven.tesler234” and “Angela.Tesler234” respectively. To top his “security measures” off, he uses the same username to “log in” to both his son’s and his own bank account: “extrasauce22”.
Clearly, most people have a hard time managing the numerous credentials they are supposed to produce each and every day, but let’s not forget that these three accounts are supposed to be worth several millions of dollars.
Towards the end of the video, “Steven” recaps the three easy steps to get the money rolling your way:
- Fill in your name and your e–mail “on this page”
- Download the Tesler App “on the next page”
- Launch the Tesler App
Well, beside providing your name and e–mail, you also have to provide your telephone number, otherwise you will not be able to submit the registration form. The question is, why? You could just as well enter your telephone number, once the account was created. It wouldn’t make any difference in the described scenario.
“On the next page” you are asked to provide your card details and to transfer the minimum deposit (of USD 250), but there is no link to download the app.
As for the Tesler App itself — I mentioned it already — I have found not a trace of it anywhere. I cannot see why it shouldn’t be available for download in any of the app stores. It would be fine, if anyone eager to actually test it in live mode had to register and transfer the deposit (even though I still wonder why real money should be necessary to conduct “beta tests” of a software), but why is the app itself (quasi in non–trading or demo mode) not available for download?
Gerry’s Scam Spot Tip #6: Whenever you come across one such “opportunity” and feel you cannot afford to pass up the offer, make up a name, provide a disposable e–mail address, and use a pay–as–you–go telephone (which stores no personal information at all).
If the offer proves to be serious (and beneficial to you), you can still create an account using genuine details and your regular telephone.
If not, delete the e–mail address, throw away the SIM card, and you will still have gained some valuable experience (with relatively little effort).
This was a rather lengthy discussion of grey theory. Thanks for your attention. In the next instalment of this two–piece, Tesler Delivers Promises or Interview with a Money Sucker, I will try to show you how such a venture might easily escalate, if approached with naivety.