How 'Impero Solutions' scammed thousands of investors in West Africa
The Canadian company Impero Solutions, which claimed to offer attractive online investments, has scammed several thousand investors around the world since late 2020, many of them in West Africa. Contacted by a victim of this fraud, the FRANCE 24 Observers team investigated the company’s methods, which centre around a persuasive marketing strategy and fraudulent documents claiming that the company was authorised and guaranteed by the Canadian government.
Impero Solutions, created in 2020, presented itself as a “leading global investment company that manages multiple asset classes.”
Based in Canada, the company promised short-term investment packages offering returns ranging from 11.6% for $50 invested over 16 business days, to 230% for an investment of $75,000 to $1 million over 100 business days, with the option to reinvest at the end of the period. They offered annual returns of over 500%, ten times higher than the best-performing traditional investment funds.
Promotional videos on the company's website gave potential customers step-by-step instructions on how to sign up and make deposits, but gave no indication of how the company would invest and grow the money. In one video, a woman explains that customers can deposit money using "e-wallet" accounts such as PerfectMoney, a popular online payment service in West Africa, or three major cryptocurrencies: Bitcoin, Ethereum and Tether.
The video described how clients could earn extra income through referral bonuses, by becoming company “leaders” and signing up other investors, and that these investors could withdraw their money "at any time, 24/7.” An archive of their website is available here.
‘What really convinced me was the fact that the company claimed they had official authorisation from the Canadian government’
On May 31, Jean (not his real name), a student and chicken salesman in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, contacted the FRANCE 24 Observers team. Jean, attracted by the company’s promise of high profits and reassured by a friend, had invested 1.2 million West African CFA francs (around €1,800) in Impero Solutions.
I saw a lot of testimonials on YouTube that made me want to invest. I took a month to research the company in detail, and I saw all these videos with the president of Impero Solutions talking up the company. It was the first time I got involved in something like this.
What really convinced me was the fact that the company claimed they had official authorisation from the Canadian government, which I verified myself. I went on the Canadian government website and I was able to see for myself that the company was listed on the official registers.
With my investment of 1.2 million CFA francs, I should have received up to 330,000 [about €500] profit after 26 days. The amount I invested is the equivalent of my year’s salary.
An effective marketing strategy
Many people online were convinced by the communication strategy and seemingly professional online presence of Impero Solutions, according to the testimonies collected by the FRANCE 24 Observers team.
The company produced promotional videos in 11 different languages, ranging from English and French to Hindi, Chinese, Russian and more.
A common feature of these videos: William Morrison, the company's supposed CEO.
Impero Solutions also takes a more personal promotional approach, presenting a video of a supposed investor entering the building where the company claims to be headquartered in Montreal. The investor makes his way up the lift to the company’s offices, and even to the office of the CEO himself.
Another clip shows Impero Solutions’s top investors and “leaders” meeting with Morrison, who hands over checks and prizes.
The company’s promotional strategy relies on frequent posts in groups on Facebook, WhatsApp and Telegram, where the “leaders” encourage other users, particularly in West Africa, to invest in the company. In Ivory Coast, a press conference organised at the end of April lauded the merits of Impero Solutions’s financial potential.
A video posted on Facebook on April 26 shows several people in a venue rented for the launch day event for Impero Solutions Dubai. The video features a “coach” from Ivory Coast participating in the event.
‘When they deleted their email address, we realised we would never see our money again’
At first, everything went well for Jean. After submitting his investment on May 18, he noticed interest accruing in his Impero Solutions account to the tune of 23 dollars per day.
But on May 24, he and a group of fellow investors realised that it was impossible to withdraw their earnings.
We had a Telegram group with several investors in Ivory Coast, Gabon, Cameroon, as well as some Africans based in the US. None of us could log into our Impero Solutions accounts. We also saw that the official Impero Solutions Telegram account had been closed.
We contacted the “leaders,” who had encouraged us to invest in Impero Solutions. They told us not to worry, that there was probably a technical issue, and that everything would be fine. But we haven’t heard from them since.
In these private chats, some investors blamed the situation on Bitcoin’s depreciation, when the cryptocurrency lost 48% of its value last May.
Then we found out that the official Impero Solutions email address had been deleted. That’s when we realised we would never see our money again. The sky had fallen. I was in a depression and I’m just starting to get my head above water [Editor’s note: one month after the loss]. No one in my family knows… I don’t want anyone to know that I lost all that money.
Jean is far from being the only person impacted by the Impero Solutions scam: testimonies have been pouring in on YouTube and Facebook since May 24. One French YouTuber claims to have lost up to $25,000 (€21,200).
Empty offices and an actor for a CEO
When doubts began to arise about Impero Solutions, a Canadian-based YouTuber tried to go to the company's supposed headquarters at suite 2200 of 1250 René-Lévesque Boulevard in Montreal to get an explanation. But when he got there, he found no trace of the company.
According to Le Journal de Montréal, Impero Solutions had indeed rented a workspace at this address from operating company Regus, a subsidiary of IWG, but no one from the investment company ever set foot there.
Another strange fact pointed out by many YouTubers who took an interest in Impero Solutions is that its CEO, William Morrison, seems to read from a teleprompter during all of his videos, wearing a false moustache and fake moles that appear in different spots on his face depending on the video.
Craig Goodwin aka William Morrison: ‘I am also a victim’
The FRANCE 24 Observers team tracked down the person who played the role of William Morrison. Craig Goodwin, an English teacher in Moscow, confirmed that he is the man in these videos, however, he says he had no idea what was going on behind the scenes.
I was contacted by a marketing company based in Moscow called AnnFilm. They do commercials for companies and they contacted me because they were looking for a man with an English accent, not Russian. They put me in front of a camera and said "Can you read this script?" displayed on a teleprompter. I asked "But what is it for? Is this a real company?" and they just said yes, it was a big company. I thought it was weird, but I was just doing what I went there to do: I was just an actor, and at no point did I have any contact with Impero Solutions representatives. I wasn't the only one: there were three or four English-speaking actors like me, it was a bit like role-playing.
It's really unfortunate that people have invested in a company that was not what it says it was. I would never tell anyone to invest in this kind of thing. I don't do it myself. But it has nothing to do with me: I teach English, I'm not an investor, I'm not a banker. I'm also a victim.
The company AnnFilm, also contacted by our team, denied having any involvement in filming promotional clips for Impero Solutions.
An inestimable fraud
Impero Solutions relied on modern word-of-mouth marketing, using what the investment company calls "leaders": social media personalities sharing tips on YouTube, or through private groups on WhatsApp or Telegram to attract new investors.
It’s difficult to ascertain whether these “leaders” were involved in the actual scam, or unwilling victims themselves.
Two weeks after Impero Solutions was shut down, there were still at least 50 Facebook groups with nearly 2,500 members in Côte d'Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Nigeria, Canada and France, according to our investigation.
Le Journal de Montréal claims that there have been at least 5,000 victims in France, and even more on the African continent. FRANCE 24 was unable to independently confirm this figure.
Only 18 complaints against Impero Solutions have been officially filed by residents of Canada, according to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, which characterises the scam as an "investment fraud." This relatively small number of complaints suggests that the scam was primarily aimed at targets outside Canada.
‘The fact that the company was registered with the federal government of Canada does not guarantee the legality of its actions’
Impero Solutions had already been singled out in October 2020 by the AMF, or l’Autorité des marchés financiers (in English, the Financial Market Authority) of Quebec and placed on its blacklist for illegally soliciting investors.
In a statement published on May 18, the AMF warned Canadian investors to be wary of Impero Solutions and other companies soliciting investments online, saying there is “limited recourse against such companies and their executives when they operate outside Canada, which is often the case.”
AMF spokesperson, Sylvain Théberge, explains:
We received information that this company was soliciting investors in Quebec without being registered with the Authority [AMF of Quebec] as a securities dealer as required by our regulations. This company was therefore acting illegally.
The fact that the company was registered with the federal government of Canada does not guarantee the legality of its actions. On our side, the AMF only has jurisdiction in Quebec and represents only Quebec, and our work has no connection with this register.
This is a classic fraud scheme and the money has probably already been squandered. The most important message is that before investing in a company that offers very attractive prospects, you should do your research and, above all, contact the regulator.
Impero Solutions was registered with Corporations Canada, under Canada’s Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development. The ministry's spokeswoman, Sophy Lambert-Racine, maintained that Impero Solutions had respected the proper procedure for incorporating a joint-stock company: a four-step process on the Corporations Canada website requiring a postal address, articles of incorporation and the payment of 200 Canadian dollars.
Corporations Canada's database includes all federally incorporated corporations that are legally and properly incorporated. Corporations Canada ensures that each application submitted meets the requirements of the law. The organisation regularly reviews its processes to improve detection, identify risks and respond quickly to suspected fraud.
Corporations Canada said they took steps to warn people about the scam, posting a statement on their website in early June, around a week after the Impero Solutions website was taken down.
Impero Solutions Limited was using the Corporations Canada letterhead without authorisation in its contracts with potential clients. This statement also affirms that Corporations Canada does not endorse any type of contract with third parties and does not guarantee the activities of third parties.
We encourage anyone who has been a victim of fraud to report it to their local police department or the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, as well as the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.
The agency published one of Impero Solutions’s fraudulent contracts, which states: "The Government of Canada will act as the guarantor of the company and is fully responsible for the operations of IMPERO SOLUTIONS Ltd.”
While Canadian authorities have not said how Impero Solutions’s managed to get its fraudulent activities past some agencies, this scam may reveal a regulatory gap between federal and provincial bodies, an issue that several experts have already acknowledged.
One of the most well-documented cases concerns securities regulation in Canada: in 2009, an expert panel explained, among other things, that this regulation was "inefficient,” because each jurisdiction at the provincial level "devotes a different level of resources to securities regulation.” The panel also argued that this situation led to "duplicative” efforts, “unnecessary costs, overstaffing and delays" in enforcement, while providing unequal protection to Canadians depending on their province of origin.
For Jean, this official registration is at the centre of the scam's success.
I am really angry at the Canadian government for authorising this company without really controlling it. This gave us confidence, and that's why we decided to invest. We feel betrayed, and we don't understand how the Canadian government could have approved such a company. We have formed a small victims' collective, and we would like to find a lawyer who could help us win our case and get our money back.
A recurrent scam?
Our team was unable to track down who is behind the Impero Solutions scam by analysing the company's digital footprint. The company also used the names "Mirollex" and "Onward Capital," both of which ceased operations on May 21, according to Le Journal de Montréal.
Impero Solutions's website was registered with NameCheap, a domain-name company based in Arizona, USA, and hosted on OVHCloud, a French web services company. The Canadian police have not yet launched an investigation into the company, according to several Canadian agencies contacted by FRANCE 24 Observers.
Several indications suggest that this scam could resurface: a new website called iTRON.work contains troubling similarities to Impero Solutions, notably the same phone number and mailing address.