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Forbes 2017 Investment Guide: Bad Ideas Gone Good

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Sometimes the worst plans can make you richer. In this special Investment Guide we highlight strategies that may seem foolish at first, until you dig into them. Buy gold? Trade options? Take a reverse mortgage? All can provide big returns in the right circumstances. To help lead the way is the man behind pretty much every bad idea on HBO’s cult sitcom Silicon Valley – actor and comedian T.J. Miller, whose Erlich Bachman somehow always pulls through.

Written by Janet Novack, FORBES STAFF

Sleazy Image, Smart PlayReverse mortgages have a low-rent reputation. But they could play a bigger role in affluent Boomers’ retirement plans. If that happens, a 39-year-old neat freak will be a big winner. / By Lauren Gensler

Gold Is for Cranks? Not So Fast  / Bad inflation may never return. But if it does, you’ll wish you owned some metal and hogs. / By William Baldwin

Related: Tax Devils

Milking Your Stocks  / Trading options is a gambler’s bet, but for a math-minded investor, they can also provide a steady and relatively safe source of income.  /  By John Dobosz

Divide Your HomeForfeit part of your “best” long-term investment? It might make sense.By Samantha Sharf

Shrink Your SalaryNewt Gingrich, John Edwards and (it appears) Donald Trump did it. Maybe you should too.By Kelly Phillips Erb

Related: Keep The IRS At Bay

When Paper Beats Cash / Sacrificing salary for hard-to-value-options is crazy—unless you can do the math.By William Baldwin

Rowing Upstream for Alpha / As billions pour out of active management, stockpicking standout T. Rowe Price is hunkering down and quietly setting up a quant shop, just in case. / By Matt Schifrin

Related: 2 Great Alternatives To T. Rowe Price’s New Horizons Fund

Faceless Returns / Jack Bogle and a chorus of indexing champions say active investing is futile. BlackRock thinks Andrew Ang and his computer-driven ETFs are the strategy’s last great hope.By Nathan Vardi

Web Extra: The Irresistible Math Behind Private Equity Stocks / By Antoine Gara

 

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How Cryptocurrency Scams Work

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Millions of cryptocurrency investors have been scammed out of massive sums of real money. In 2018, losses from cryptocurrency-related crimes amounted to US$1.7 billion. The criminals use both old-fashioned and new-technology tactics to swindle their marks in schemes based on digital currencies exchanged through online databases called blockchains.

From researching blockchain, cryptocurrency and cybercrime, I can see that some cryptocurrency fraudsters rely on tried-and-true Ponzi schemes that use income from new participants to pay out returns to earlier investors.

Others use highly automatized and sophisticated processes, including automated software that interacts with Telegram, an internet-based instant-messaging system popular among people interested in cryptocurrencies. Even when a cryptocurrency plan is legitimate, fraudsters can still manipulate its price in the marketplace.

An even more basic question arises, though: How are unsuspecting investors attracted to cryptocurrency frauds in the first place?

RELATED | Is Forex A Scam Or Money Goals?

Fast-talking swindlers

Some cryptocurrency fraudsters appeal to people’s greed, promising big returns. For example, an unknown group of entrepreneurs runs the scam bot iCenter, which is a Ponzi scheme for Bitcoin and Litecoin. It doesn’t provide information on investment strategies, but somehow promises investors 1.2% daily returns.

The iCenter scheme operates through a group chat on Telegram. It starts with a small group of scammers who are in on the racket. They get a referral code that they share with others, in blogs and on social media, hoping to get them to join the chat. Once there, the newcomers see encouraging and exciting messages from the original scammers. Some newcomers decide to invest, at which point they are assigned an individual bitcoin wallet, into which they can deposit bitcoins. They agree to wait some period of time – 99 or 120 days – to receive a significant return.

During that time, the newcomers often use social media to share their own referral codes with friends and contacts, bringing more people into the group chat and into the investment scheme. There’s no actual investment of the funds in any legitimate business. Instead, when new people join, the person who recruited them gets a percentage of the new funds, and the cycle continues, paying out to earlier participants from each round of newer investors.

Some members work especially hard to bring in new funds, posting tutorial videos and pictures of themselves holding large amounts of money as enticements to join the scam.

Lies and more lies

Some scammers go for straight-up deception. The founders of scam cryptocurrency OneCoin defrauded investors of $3.8 billion by convincing people their nonexistent cryptocurrency was real.

Other scams are based on impressing potential victims with jargon or claims of specialized knowledge. The Global Trading scammers claimed they took advantage of price differences on various cryptocurrency exchanges to profit from what is called arbitrage – simply buying cheaply and selling at higher prices. Really they just took investors’ money.

Global Trading used a bot on Telegram, too – investors could send a balance inquiry message and get a response with false information about how much was in their account, sometimes even seeing balances climb by 1% in an hour. With returns looking like that, who could blame people for sharing the scheme with their friends and family on social media?

Exploiting friends and family

Once a scheme has started, it stays alive – at least for a while – through social media. One person gets taken in by the promise of big returns on cryptocurrency investments and spreads the word to friends and family members.

Sometimes big names get involved. For instance, the kingpin behind GainBitcoin and other alleged scams in India convinced a number of Bollywood celebrities to promote his book, “Cryptocurrency for Beginners.” He even tried to make himself a bit of a celebrity, proclaiming himself a “cryptocurrency guru,” as he led efforts that costinvestors between $769 million and $2 billion.

Not all the celebrities know they’re involved. In one blog post, iCenter featured a video that purported to be an endorsement by Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, holding a sign featuring iCenter’s logo. Videos of Justin Timberlake and Christopher Walken were deceptively edited so they appeared to praise iCenter, too.

Fraudulent initial coin offerings

Another popular scam technique is called an “initial coin offering.” A potentially legitimate investment opportunity, an initial coin offering essentially is a way for a startup cryptocurrency company to raise money from its future users: In exchange for sending active cryptocurrencies like bitcoin and ethereum, customers are promised a discount on the new cryptocoins.

Many initial coin offerings have turned out to be scams, with organizers engaging in cunning plots, even renting fake offices and creating fancy-looking marketing materials. In 2017, a lot of hype and media coverage about cryptocurrencies fed a huge wave of initial coin offering fraud. In 2018, about 1,000 initial coin offering efforts collapsed, costing backers at least $100 million. Many of these projects had no original ideas – more than 15% of them had copied ideas from other cryptocurrency efforts, or even plagiarized supporting documentation.

Investors looking for returns in a new technology sector are still interested in blockchains and cryptocurrencies – but should beware that they are complex systems that are new even to those who are selling them. Newcomers and relative experts alike have fallen prey to scams.

In an environment like the current cryptocurrency market, potential investors should be very careful to research what they’re putting their money into and be sure to find out who is involved as well as what the actual plan is for making real money – without defrauding others.

Nir Kshetri; Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

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Hulu Offers Glimpse Of An Edgier Future Under Disney’s Control As Subscriber Count Passes 28 Million

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Hulu is poised to enter a new chapter in its history as the decade-old streaming service once dismissed as “Clown Co.” moves to refine its identity among a trio of direct-to-consumer services under the control of the Walt Disney Co.

The streaming service offered a glimpse of what’s to come Wednesday as it announced its programming lineup in a presentation at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Hulu is looking for more adult—and, in some cases, edgier and boundary-pushing—programming, as well as comedies that have something to say, in the mold of its new series Shrill.

The company said its viewer proposition—the ability to watch the stories they love, whenever and wherever they want—is catching on with consumers. Hulu said it increased its total customer base to more than 28 million—26.8 million monthly subscribers and 1.3 million promotional accounts. That’s up from 25 million paid and promotional accounts reported in January.

Hulu’s viewers are 20 years younger than those who pay for cable or satellite TV subscriptions — the median age is 31; and some 21 million have either canceled their pay TV subscriptions or never signed up in the first place.

“Hulu’s continued growth, as well as the shows and initiatives announced today, reflect our deep investment in product, programming, brand, customer experience,” CEO Randy Freer said in a statement.

The venerable Hulu will need to differentiate itself as more than a mere cable substitute, as media giants like AT&T’s WarnerMedia and cable giant Comcast prepare to launch their own streaming services. It’ll also need a distinct identity within Disney, which gained a controlling interest in the streaming service with its March acquisition of 21st Century Fox and plans to launch a family-focused Disney+ in November.

Hulu called in some serious star-power to highlight its original series, including Margot Robbie, producer of the forthcoming series Dollfacestarring Kat Dennings, Mindy Kaling, who’s producing an adaptation of Four Weddings and a Funeral, and George Clooney, who stars in a dark, satirical comedy based on Joseph Heller’s novel, Catch-22.

The streaming service greenlighted Nine Perfect Strangers, starring Nicole Kidman, an adaptation of the New York Times bestseller from Big Little Lies author Liane Moriarty. The series, from acclaimed television writer and producer David E. Kelley and John Henry Butterworth, takes place at a boutique health-and-wellness resort that promises healing and transformation to nine stressed city dwellers.

Hulu is also benefiting from Disney’s decision to end its relationship with Netflix, which had created four well-received series based on Marvel characters.

Hulu will add two new live-action series drawn from the Marvel universe, Marvel’s Ghost Rider and Marvel’s Helstrom, whichare slated to debut in 2020. For those not versed in the canon: Ghost Rider (aka Robbie Reyes) is an antihero, consumed by hellfire and supernaturally bound to a demon. Meanwhile, Daimon and Ana Helstrom are the son and daughter of a mysterious and powerful serial killer. Together, the siblings track down the worst of humanity.

The series join a growing superhero roster on Hulu that includes Marvel’s Runaways, which is entering its third season, and previously announcedadult animated series based on the popular Marvel Television characters Hit-Monkey, Tigra and Dazzler, Howard the Duck and Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing (or MODOK).

Following the success of Hulu’s 2019 comedy slate, it ordered second seasons of Pen15, in whichMaya Erskine and Anna Konkle play versions of themselves as 13-year-old outcasts in the year 2000, and Ramy, a series that follows first-generation Egyptian-American Ramy Hassan on a spiritual journey in his politically divided New Jersey neighborhood.

Hulu confirmed its order for The Dropout, a limited series starring Kate McKinnon, who comically bow-leg walked on stage in heels to talk about her portrayal of Elizabeth Holmes, the founder of the blood-testing company Theranos who is now awaiting trial for fraud.

“Hello advertisers,” McKinnon deadpanned. “I have never been to an Upfront before. If you need the blood of an upfront virgin, I am your gal.”

The service also said it will partner with Vox Media Studios, David Chang’s Majordomo Media and Chrissy Teigen’s Suit & Thai Productions to develop and produce a slate of premium food-centric programming for Hulu.

Dawn Chmielewski; Forbes Staff

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Airbnb Leads $160 Million Investment Into Hospitality Startup Lyric

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Airbnb is the lead investor in a new $160 million funding round for hospitality startup Lyric. The $30 billion home-sharing platform was joined by a host of major players in real estate including new investors Tishman Speyer and RXR Realty, as well as existing investors FifthWall Ventures and Starwood CEO Barry Sternlicht.

The Series B financing is about 50% debt and brings Lyric’s total funds raised to $185 million. The San Francisco-based startup declined to discuss its valuation.

Lyric’s model is similar to the one WeWork popularized for shared offices. Lyric leases a full floor of an apartment building from the landlord, fills each unit with Instagram-friendly furnishings, and then rents them out like hotel rooms. The company makes money off the spread between what it pays in rent and what it charges travelers.

READ MORE | Meet The Top Women Investors Of The Midas List In 2019

“The supply and demand of real estate used to move in a rigid cadence. It was like the old Henry Ford quote ‘you can have a car in any color you want as long as it is black,’” says Rob Speyer, CEO of developer Tishman Speyer. “To be competitive in 2019, real estate must offer flexibility to the customer, just like any other business.”

Lyrics average nightly rate is $220. Travelers can book one of 500 “suites” through the company’s site or on rental marketplaces like Airbnb. They can stay for as few as two nights or try to beat the record of 304. Every Lyric apartment includes a Casper mattress, Frette linens and toiletries from Malin + Goetz. Units feature local touches like Delta blues records in Chicago, Ed Panar photos in Pittsburgh and Cultivar Coffee in Dallas.

“We have seen how hospitality entrepreneurs like the team at Lyric can help deliver amazing experiences and help guests feel like they can belong anywhere in the world,” Greg Greeley, Airbnb’s president of homes, said in a release announcing the investment. Lyric plans to use the new funds to grow to 2,500 units in 12 months.

READ MORE | Airbnb Hires Airline Executive In Move To Offer Transportation Services

For real estate owners, having Lyric absorb units can help get a new rental building to full occupancy faster. Lyric says it pays market rate for the apartments it uses. CEO Andrew Kitchell argues access to guest suites can also be marketed as an amenity for traditional, long-term tenants. His company’s presence, Kitchell reasons, eliminates the need for a spare bedroom or keeps a sibling from sleeping on your couch.

“We believe having some percentage of our buildings as shared hospitality, if done right, would be a very valuable addition,” says Scott Rechler, CEO of RXR, which is developing 6,000 residential units. “Merchandising them with multiple products that can meet different customers’ needs will make the communities more vibrant.”

Of course, not everyone likes the idea of random travelers coming and going as they please. Niido, another Airbnb-backed startup, experienced pushback when it took over management of a Florida apartment building and promised to help residents rent our their spaces short term.

Kitchell, who has worked in real estate technology since 2009, cofounded Lyric in 2014 with president Joe Fraiman. In 2011, Fraiman founded Tastemaker, a interior design startup.

-Samantha Sharf; Forbes Staff

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