The man’s smile is a thin line cutting the beard of his strong jaw. His mouth tilts slightly in one direction and wobbles to a smirk.
His body is not pictured on the website, but there is something about his expression that makes it look like he is standing tall and tall with his arms crossed across his chest.
It’s supposed to be Mark Corbett, a broker who offered pension advances to veterans online.
“Complete our online request and Mark Corbett will get back to you shortly with a quote!” The caption on his website read.
Mark Corbett, 65, contacted hundreds of veterans who responded to online ads as they sought cash advances for supposedly quick fixes to financial problems – but the man in the photo isn’t Mark Corbett.
In debt: Financial schemes targeted veterans while companies made millions
Financial schemes have been targeting veterans since before the Internet in at least 33 states, but court cases in Greenville, South Carolina, could mark a new era.
Josh Morgan, Greenville News
The photograph is a cropped version of an image that was posted with a 2013 Forbes.com article titled “10 Nonverbal Clues That Transmit Confidence At Work,” according to allegations from a 2017 federal lawsuit in Greenville, in South Carolina.
The lawsuit, which was settled in September, said Corbett’s fake photograph was “an apparent effort to conceal his identity.”
Corbett’s use of the photo is one of the most brazen alleged deceptions The Greenville News uncovered in its year-long investigation into financial schemes that led to criminal charges and lawsuits across the countries, many of them in Greenville.
Judicial and other records alleged documents from Corbett and others involved in tactics which appealed to the aspirations of thousands of veterans and investors. These hopes have often turned into despair.
A script for a strictly constructed sales pitch was also part of something described as a billion dollar business that turned into a Ponzi scheme, The News investigation revealed.
The people behind Future Income Payments, the largest company of its kind, have developed a special personality. They did so using friendly and comfortable phrases said over the phone as well as online ads featuring a smiling silver-haired couple beaming with happiness, according to state and federal regulators.
The marketing campaign promised the future would be brighter than today – if veterans simply signed online, veterans said in interviews with The News.
But the sellers broke that promise, former customers said. The appearance of success was only a facade, they said, a facade.
Future Income Payments taught their employees how to build trust through their training.
Use excitement and urgency in your pitch for hesitant veterans and other retirees, we told them. Have no fear, the guidelines stressed, to use fear as well, according to allegations in a 2017 lawsuit filed against future income payments by the Minnesota state attorney general’s office.
Employees have sharpened and harnessed their emotions to raise the sales stakes – no matter the cost, according to the Minnesota lawsuit.
This same trial reprints a sales script. If the veterans balked at the amount of money they had to pay back for a cash advance, the representatives were to respond in the following manner, illustrated here exactly as it appeared in the lawsuit:
I understand the payout is not as good as maybe a personal loan from your bank or credit union, one of the reasons I love my job is that I am able to help people like YOU while your bank will not. In addition to getting that advance and paying off your credit cards, you’ll improve your debt-to-income ratio and only have one bill. It’s super easy to get caught up in (just making minimum payments to high interest creditors so you can never get out) I want to help you turn the band-aid into a solution! So when you buy a house or a car, you get a better rate. It looks nice?
In interviews with The News, veterans said representatives for Future Income Payments are kind, like smart friends you can trust.
Staff have been trained in the precise language to use – and not to use – to try to avoid legal pitfalls.
Because Future Income Payments was not authorized to make loans, a telephone marketing script for inbound calls barred employees from mentioning loans, according to a 2016 New York State Department of Financial Services order. .
The script warned employees that “saying or mentioning” pension loan “or the word” loan “is an automatic failure,” the order reads. The websites called it a “lump sum”, “pension buy-back” and “pension advance”.
Yet despite the training, employees have presented themselves as calling themselves “pension loans” or “lump sum pension loans,” according to the New York State Department of Financial Services.
They used email addresses from the lumpsum-pensionloans.com domain.
The veterans weren’t the only ones fooled.
Financial advisers and insurance agents said they had also been misled into helping future income payments align investors, said attorney Benjamin Biard, who represents some of the advisers and agents.
Arizona businesswoman Melanie Schulze-Miller has contacted these agents and advisers on behalf of Future Income Payments. In a 2017 email, one of his employees assured a San Diego company that the company’s model “strongly protects the buyer and the agent.” according to a federal civil lawsuit filed this summer. Two calls and an email to his company were not returned.
Schulze-Miller forwarded a similar email in 2016 to Chris Dixon, the founder of a South Carolina firm, Black Harbor Wealth Management.
The email, written by Joseph Hipp, said there had been “no complaints” from investors. Hipp managed investor relations for future income payments.
However, future income payments had already been banned by at least two states, Colorado and California, in 2015 – the one year before the email was sent to Dixon. As more veterans and investors complained to regulators, cease and desist orders from more than a dozen states followed, contributing to the collapse of company in April 2018, according to company emails in court records.
Earlier this year, a federal grand jury in Greenville indicted Kohn, Hipp and two other executives. They are charged with conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud because of their involvement in the sale of military benefits. One of them, Californian businessman Kraig Aiken, agreed to plead guilty.
Mark Corbett operated several websites that offered veterans money in return for a portion of their monthly benefits or pensions. According to the 2017 lawsuit filed by three veterans, Corbett was part of a military benefits buying business with Easley, South Carolina attorney Candy Kern-Fuller and businessman from the Arkansas Andrew Gamber.
The photograph was just one of his deceptions, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an agency of the federal government.
The bureau said Corbett misled consumers that military benefit purchase contracts were valid and enforceable when in fact they violate federal law. He misrepresented the product itself, claiming that the offer of high-interest credit is a buy-in-payments, according to the bureau. He also hid those high interest rates from consumers, the bureau said – rates alleged in the 2017 civil lawsuit were as high as 47%.
The office banned Corbett from buying and selling military benefits in January. He agreed to personally pay a civil fine of just one dollar – because, according to the bureau, that’s all he could afford. His case prompted the bureau to allocate $ 9 million from its civil sanctions fund to compensate veterans Corbett convinced to sell their military benefits.
As part of his deal with the office, Corbett has neither admitted nor denied the wrongdoing. He cooperates with the investigators, specifies the agreement.
Corbett did not return three phone messages in October asking for comment.
As part of the 2017 lawsuit settlement, Corbett admitted that the purchase of military benefits violated federal law.
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