Whatever Happened To Digital Altitude?
On Thursday, February 1, 2018, the FTC filed for “Ex Parte Temporary Restraining Order With Asset Freeze” and the appointment of an official Receiver in regard to DA and Michael Force… and all DA’s shell companies and other trading names and its leading “officers” i.e. Mary Dee (officer/manager of Digital Altitude, Aspire Processing, RISE Systems & Enterprise, The Upside and Thermography for Life), Morgan Johnson (officer/manager of Digital Altitude, RISE Systems & Enterprise), Alan Moore (officer/manager of Digital Altitude and Aspire Processing) and Sean Brown (officer/manager of Aspire Processing, Disc Enterprises and RISE Systems & Enterprise).
The business names you see in parenthesis being DA’s shell companies. Well… at least some of them.
Just as would happen with MOBE a few months later, following the Receiver’s visit to DA, all websites and social media channels relating to the sale of their “products” went down.
All meetings and events cancelled.
The wicked witch was at last dead.
I never wrote about it at the time, but I reckon I will now, as with the passing months the Receiver and FTC has released more information and it’s still worth commenting on.
I’ve given MOBE some stick over the last couple of years, but DA is just as deserving.
When DA and Michael Force went down MOBE must’ve known the writing was on the wall for them (Matt Lloyd). Same for a lot of other of these schemes that’ve been lying to folks and just robbing for years. With the shutdown of DA and MOBE, it hopefully signals that these fraudulent programs just aren’t going to be tolerated any longer.
Not smiling now
That DA was pretty much a straight rip-off of MOBE, and MOBE were actually suing DA for copying their criminal business model, probably looks like a bad idea in hindsight to Matt Lloyd – given that it’d be kinda hard to argue that you were something tangibly different if you were litigating on the basis that you were the originator of what DA was doing.
But Matt Lloyd was probably just looking at the money DA was pulling in, felt his snout should’ve been in that trough too, and so just couldn’t help himself.
These people are all about the money, always the money, just like the Mafia.
Except a lot more inept but just as insidious and harmful to your (financial) health.
A Mountain of Lies
The Receiver’s First Interim report on DA is both an amusing, and appalling, read.
Appalling due to the litany of lies and fraud it uncovers, without having to do very much digging.
For starters the registered business address of DA that they touted on their marketing material, was not where they were to be found; they’d left a few weeks earlier, and despite the claims of a wealth of support people and staff backing up DA, the landlord confirmed to the Receiver than only a handful of people worked there.
Which the Receiver discovered when he tracked down DA to its new and salubrious office premises, which he reported as “run down and covered with graffiti on the interior walls.” Lovely. Just the sort of office space one would imagine folks who promise $100k a month paydays would work in.
Fall off a cliff with Aspire aka Digital Altitude
Aptly, this luxury premises had previously been used to breed house snakes and other reptiles, so the “coaches” must’ve felt right at home as they made those high pressure sales calls.
Even more aptly the address had been the subject of a prior FBI raid because of those snakes.
And now it was the subject of an FTC “raid” due to housing snakes and reptiles again.
However, if it was a raid it was a very civil and polite one, and all concerned quite cordial by the Receiver’s account.
By Michael Force’s account, the Receiver and FTC “stormed” into DA’s office accompanied by armed law enforcement officers(!) But Michael Force has been a professional liar for so many years this sort of embellishment and fiction comes naturally to him. It was hardly difficult for the Receiver to refute that allegation and prove that no law enforcement was invited or needed to take over the premises. Police departments tend to keep records of these things, and that’s without the other witnesses having to state Force’s allegation was nonsense.
Like his promises on what you could earn with his ripped-off MOBE system.
The people present were apparently cooperative and the Receiver went about his business seizing the computer hardware and what little physical documentation and records there were on the premises.
Most of DA’s records were digital and once the Receiver was in possession of passwords and access, everything that folks had been warning about DA since its inception, were proved true.
For instance, like that other bankrupted pyramid scheme Empower, it appears that DA wasn’t even running in profit and faced frequent problems of maintaining liquidity.
And that was operating unlawfully.
The Receiver concluded there was no way it could be run profitably and still stay within the law.
Let’s not conflate that pronouncement as a statement saying Michael Force et al weren’t making money, because they were, just the amount they were drawing out of the company as recompense for their “skills,” and what they were paying to their “joint venturers” (more on them later), meant there was very little left for operating costs and so on.
Hence the rundown, graffiti strewn snake house. The rest of the operation was run out of a residential address.
The house of cards that was the business, as I (and others) have said, was run purely for the benefit of the business i.e. Michael Force, not the consumer: “It appears that the entire structure of Digital Altitude is to disguise sales activities designed to pull greater and greater amounts of funds from consumers under the guise of ‘coaching'”.
The Receiver could just as well have written “rob” than “pull.”
The Success Coaches
It shouldn’t come as any surprise, but it was still gratifying for the Receiver to confirm that the success coaches weren’t successful, or trained, in anything more than trying to get people to purchase more DA junk products.
So they could get the commissions – not help the people buying the program.
“… the “coaches” performing this coaching do not in fact have expertise or significant experience in the subject at issue but are instead aggressive highly skilled sales people working from scripts. In the Receiver’s judgment, the entire “coaching” model is misleading to consumers as they would be disappointed to learn that their “coaches” are not highly successful businessmen coaching consumers from real experience as suggested by the Defendants’ marketing…”
Really? In other news, water is wet.
“The coaches are excellent sales people but do not appear to have any training as mentors, coaches or business training professionals. They are, by their own admission, sales people.”
You think any of these other programs out there are doing anything different? That the folks being held up as “examples” aren’t making a dime from the business advice themselves, but from the selling the advice.
And most of them aren’t even making that much, they’re just happy to be thought of that way, and play the part to the masses.
Your coach doesn’t have a damn clue
Geez, how devoid of any sense of purpose or status in life do you have to lack before you’d happily act that part out? All for the praise of the equally unsuccessful comrades who look up to you… That’s really mentally sick.
Like advising people to mortgage their homes, take on credit card debt, sell their cars, do whatever it takes to purchase and “invest” in the next program step. That just beggars belief. That was just cold-hearted robbery of people; absolute poisonous “advice” given for no other reason than to line the pocket of the person giving it in commission, and Michael Force and his cronies.
From the Receiver’s report: “They [consumers] are told that, if they do not have the money for increasingly high contributions to Digital Altitude, they should borrow it. All of the materials the Receiver has seen thus far have led him to conclude that the education program is merely a sales technique for recruiting consumers to promote Digital Altitude as a product, when in fact there is no real product (i.e., true coaching/business expertise) only the prospect of making commissions from their unwitting consumers after they themselves purchased the expensive products.”
So like I’ve saying all along about all these sorts of programs.
The Receiver reports that the products themselves, the much vaunted training, “only take a few moments to read and are of little or no educational value.”
And of Michael Force’s personal coaching, “Consumers also view a video by Michael Force with each step, which are also of no educational value… His presentations provide general advice of an anecdotal nature, rich in cliché, but with no real educational content; only the benefits of selling high ticket “top tier’ products, with little effort.”
Worthless in other words.
How Much Did Digital Altitude Scam?
In its short, yet still too long life, the Receiver reports that DA scammed its signups out of sixty million dollars! ($60,000,000).
That was extracted from some 185,000 different people.
Conversion rate was also deemed misleading by Receiver – so this is bullshit
40,000 of those people were spared with only paying $1, and never went any further, cancelling their membership.
Unfortunately that means 145,000 customers paid at least $37 (the minimum monthly membership). Of those customers, 144,167 received zero in commissions; not one dime.
The number that did receive a payment was 837, or less than one percent (0.6%).
And were they all $100k a month earners as promised by Michael Force?
No. Of that 837, some 474 made less in commissions than they paid in membership fees, with an average loss suffered of $15,345. That doesn’t take into account any advertising costs they might have incurred promoting this snail oil.
But not everyone made a loss. There were the chosen few, some 363 who actually managed to make more than they spent on DA’s shit. In that group the average gain was $71,162.
Not a small figure, and a gain at the expense of many people who were hurt and lied to, in order to get them to spend the money that provided the commissions.
The Receiver further breaks down how that “thirty pieces of silver” was distributed:
“There were 10,478 consumers who paid in more than $1,000. 676 of these consumers, or 6.4%, received commissions. 211 made an average profit of $84,585, with no consumers making more than $100,000,2 while 465 consumers lost an average of $15,639. Of the customers who received commissions, 64 became APEX members. Only one paying APEX member made more than $100,000, one made less than $100,000, and the remaining 62 members only recouped approximately $5,400 each on average. Therefore, these 62 APEX members lost an average of approximately $55,600. The one member that did make more than $100,000 took ten and a half months do so, not 90 days as advertised.”
So Who Did Make Money With Digital Altitude?
Other than Michael Force.
Well, there is a very interesting section reporting on DA’s “joint venturers”.
These weren’t members, as in they paid the thousands to ascend the various levels of DA, but were simply “fronts.”
Fronts like John Chow was with MOBE, in that DA recruited individuals with reputation and reach in the blogging/affiliate/MLM world in order to push the product to their audience.
There were some thirty-five of these individuals, none of whom had paid the Apex and other level membership fees, but were granted permission from DA to receive full benefits i.e. high commissions, for their promotion.
“These joint venturers brought additional high-pressure sales talent to the enterprise and had established infrastructure to generate traffic and sales. From internal documents, it appears that there were approximately 33 of these arrangements and the commissions paid out to this group was $12,127,763.”
One name mentioned as joint venturer, a guy I keep meaning to write a piece on is, Jesse Singh.
When solicited, Singh provided a positive testimonial for DA.
Guess what? The FTC wants that back
“Solicited.” Sounds a lot like the language used in the profession of the road side street walker – and apt, as whoring himself out for money is what Singh is all about.
All for his gain, not the people he was promoting it to. Consider that when reading his blog. And try not to contract a financial STD from his “advice” if you do.
The Receiver is unequivocal: “Isolating commissions paid to consumers clearly confirms that consumers did not profit from Digital Altitude purchases.“
Apparently, for the few who were getting commissions from DA, there were frequent problems in receiving payments.
I’ve read that payments were often months late and new payment merchants had to be signed up to, with considerable frustration involved.
This would be because refunds and chargebacks were commonplace for DA and that suggests fraudulent and suspicious activity for any merchant account processing DA’s payments. That resulted in higher fees for DA and frequent termination of business. This led to DA being placed on Member Alert to Control High-Risk (MATCH).
This didn’t stop Michael Force, though, as the Receiver notes:
“The Defendants went to great lengths to maintain the flow of funds through the merchant accounts. When Michael Force could no longer qualify for new merchant accounts, Mary Dee began applying for new merchant accounts and misrepresented her role as an owner and a managing director on merchant account applications, when neither was the case. Digital Altitude then began soliciting third parties to open new merchant accounts to collect credit card payments from Digital Altitude customers to disguise Digital Altitude as the ultimate recipient, including Mary Dee’s friends and family who were enticed to open accounts in exchange for a fee of $250 to $750 per month. The Receiver continues to investigate merchant accounts in the names of third parties for purposes of freezing them and taking possession of the cash reserves. The number of accounts being used is not yet known.”
Talk about a scam… that is just straight up criminal behaviour, and looks like “money laundering”. And with who knows how many accounts?
As stated above, the FTC’s filed for a seizure of assets along with the TRO.
That means Michael Force and those who benefited from this scam are being stripped of everything they gained from it in the attempt to recover money to compensate those who were defrauded by this scheme.
The FTC accuse Digital Altitude and the named defendants of misrepresentation regarding earnings and misrepresentations regarding goods and services provided, and are seeking to recover over $14,000,000.
Recover from the persons who have it: Michael Force, Mary Dee, Morgan Johnson, Alan Moore and Sean Brown.
Like MOBE, I wonder if certain high earning affiliates (like Uncle Joh Chow), those on the leader board, may also be considered liable? I certainly hope so.
Won’t argue with that self-analysis and neither will the FTC
But to date Morgan Johnson and Sean Brown have settled with the FTC.
Johnson has settled into a suspended $54 million dollar deal. That the fifty-four million isn’t being pursue by the FTC is probably due to this passage concerning the deal: “[Johnson will] fully cooperate with representatives of the Commission in this case and in any investigation related to or associated with the transactions or the occurrences that are the subject of the (Digital Altitude) Complaint.”
I guess the FTC must think that’s $54m dollars worth of information that Johnson can supply. Can think of no other reason to be let off the hook like that.
Sean Brown has settled at a figure of $10.8m, that money to be recovered from known cash and assets.
As part of the settlement, none of these people will ever be involved in the network marketing business again.
You’d think this would have other scammers in the industry sweating, but I don’t see any let up in similar schemes – and the current members swear up and down that their scheme is “different.”
Till it gets closed by the FTC, too.
Final Word For Now
This is what the Receiver had to report regarding the final position of Digital Altitude members:
“There are numerous consumers complaining of hardship, many of a very dire nature, over financial losses arising from going into debt either with term loans and credit cards to pay for the member fees. Many consumers say that they were misled because they were told by coaches money would be coming in to pay the debt. Others are from consumers that have not received commissions that they claim they earned.”
“Many consumers were highly vulnerable and did not have the money to pay the member fees. Coaches exploited these vulnerabilities and encouraged consumers to raise money any way they could, including encouraging consumers to borrow on a credit card, borrow from a bank, use retirement accounts, sell assets, or borrow from family. In one situation, a coach suggested that the consumer sell blood plasma and get a tattoo for advertising revenue.”
That’s Digital Altitude. That’s what the former US Marine Michael Force was leading and championing.
Turns your stomach.
I never got involved with this con, but like MOBE, these hucksters were threatening legal repercussions for calling them out on their BS.
So all the more satisfying to see this result.
I’ve been consistent in decrying and warning against schemes like Digital Altitude and MOBE, but will admit I flirted with the idea of joining some years ago.
It was researching and reading pieces like I’ve just written, that thankfully warned me off.
Likewise, it was that same research that led me into stumbling into Wealthy Affiliate (WA).
I checked them out thoroughly, too….
And then tentatively joined up. It was (and still is) completely free and no credit card required for “administrative” BS. That gave the time on the free membership to stick around, check the place out, and see if it was for me.
It was, because I’m still a member of WA. You can read my review here.
You don’t have to spend tens of thousands in order to make money on line, but on the other hand, you’re not going to make $100k within the first three months, either. I mean… get real!
WA keeps it real. Sure, you can make money, quit-the-day-job sort of money, but not in a couple of months. If it sounds too good to be true, then it is. Don’t get conned.
If you’re interested in making money, not losing it, then read my review, and check out WA. See if it’s for you.
And avoid the Michael Forces of this world.
Bernie should’ve partnered with Michael Force.
I watched the movie of this, starring Robert DeNiro as Madoff, and followed up with the book – because how did he get away with it?
A scam to make even Michael Force envious. And a prison sentence to go with it.
Bernie Madoff, The Wizard of Lies
by Diana B. Henriques