On August 17, 2012, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filed a complaint against defendants Paul Burks and Zeek Rewards, based in North Carolina. Paul Burks ran Zeek Rewards, an "investment opportunity" that promised investors returns by sharing in the profits of Zeekler, a penny auction website. Money invested in Zeek Rewards earned returns of 1.5% per day. Investors were encouraged to let their gains compound and to recruit new members into a "forced matrix" to increase their returns. The SEC contends that this forced matrix payout scheme constitutes a pyramid scheme. New investors had to pay a monthly subscription fee of between US$10 and US$99, and provide an initial investment of up to $10,000. The higher the initial investment, the higher the returns appeared. The SEC stated that the Zeekler website brought in only about 1% of the Zeek Rewards company's purported income and that the vast majority of disbursed funds were paid from new investments. The SEC alleges that Zeek Rewards is a $600 million Ponzi scheme affecting 1 million investors, which would be one of the largest Ponzi schemes in history by number of affected investors. A court-appointed receiver estimated that the $600 million amount could be "on the low end" and that the number of investors could be as many as 2 million. Paul Burks paid $4 million to the SEC and agreed to cooperate with its investigation. In February 2017 Burks was sentenced to 14 years and 8 months' imprisonment for his part in Zeek Rewards.
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