Studiotraffic was a "get-paid autosurf" site which was launched in late 2003 by an unknown person, going by the name of John Horan. It paid its users to watch advertisements every day. For each day that its users watched the required number of advertisements, they got paid 1% of their account level - for example, if they had a $100 account level, they got paid $1 each day they watched the advertisements. All users started out with a free $10 account level, and they could purchase upgrades to increase their account level up to a maximum of $80,000. The rules later changed, allowing users to have only one account, and to earn a maximum of $21,000 per month.
On March 29, 2006 the last version of the Studiotraffic.com website was still active and listed the following figures for member fees and number of total members:
- Total Membership Fees to Date $ 20,021,560
- Total Studio Traffic Members 395,547
Studiotraffic is now defunct; its domain names have been taken over by MyFileHut.com. Many of its former members found themselves almost bankrupt as the site shut down without prior warning. The owner of the site disappeared and has not been heard from since.
There have been accusations about Studiotraffic being a ponzi scheme. Practically this would mean Studiotraffic did not gain much revenue from its other programs and advertising, but that the payments came from new investors ('upgraders'). There is no certain data about this as it is impossible to know how many people bought advertising credits or banner ads from Studiotraffic. Studiotraffic refuted this accusation and pointed out that they did not have to rely on upgrade fees to pay their members because they use the proceeds from their other online businesses to supplement their payout fund. They had their own web radio station, an on-line shop, and a web hosting business among other revenue-generation programs. Studiotraffic U.S. did not seem to be able to pay off the monthly withdrawals, and Horan stated that if and when the United States becomes too much of a burden, he will have to close off the US section of Studiotraffic. In November, US members' accounts were blocked from surfing for "in-profit" members whilst all accounts were audited. In December the same occurred with UK accounts.
From January 2006, members of Studiotraffic in the UK who wish to keep earning money are required to join "sales teams" or contribute in some other way to avoid losing their accounts. Horan stated publicly that the UK was selected for reasons of poor member contribution, rudeness to staff and lack of profitability. Members from all countries were encouraged to donate to a fund called the Global Advertising Campaign (GAC), essentially asking members to contribute to Studiotraffic. GAC states that a percentage of the money members earn must be returned to help Studiotraffic.
In March 2006, after months of uncertainty, with many members being forced to surf in the hope that they will one day be allowed to earn money again, the issue of Studiotraffic's validity has more or less been solved by outside influences. In February of that year, the payment processor, Stormpay, started freezing accounts of organisations it regarded as contrary to its own trading model. Whether this was justified or merely a subterfuge to cover Stormpay's own lack of liquidity is another matter. Stormpay members had to sit back and watch the processor seize their funds, charging them back in an arbitrary manner to where they saw fit. Eventually, Studiotraffic was affected; with their own Stormpay accounts frozen and unable to even see the state of their accounts, the top management resigned.
Contributing to Studiotraffic failing was also the emergence of many other Autosurf programs offering a high return which competed for members spends/upgrading dollars.
It is significant that the program had a forum at all. Many other programs online would not do it, as a lot of them were organized scams which would run off after a certain period of time. John Horan posted regularly on Studiotraffic's forums, often every day.
To date, out of the tens of thousands of forum posts, there seem to be little if none at all posts by people not being paid, and hundreds of posts by people who have been paid. The cause of this is strict moderation and anti-negativity rules in the forum - any complaints about a lack of payment were deleted as "account issues", and general negative comments resulted in banning. Adding links or sharing messages sent by admin to a user could also result in banning or instant thread deletion. Since there were a large number of moderators this usually took only moments. In this way, the forums did not present a balanced discussion of Studiotraffic and it would have been inadvisable to judge the site based on them. But on the other hand there were other forums where anyone could openly discuss Studiotraffic and it was in one of those a crusade to stop Studiotraffic started.
Studiotraffic offered live chat-based help and a feedback ticket system whereby users can get responses directly from the administrator. There had been reported cases of Studiotraffic staff telephoning clients to verify that a payment had been processed correctly. The Studiotraffic website was available in four different languages at varying stages of completion.
Unlike ponzi schemes, it clearly appears that one does not need to put any of his or her own money into the system in order to earn money. It would take a long time to withdraw cash out of the system if the client never upgraded their account with their own money, but it was possible. To achieve this, heavy use of the monthly compounding facility, or the recycling of earnings at month end was needed since the account level needed to be at least $100 in order to withdraw, and accounts can only be upgraded in multiples of $10. It took about four months before the account level could be raised to $20, thereby earning slightly more money than before.
Compounding this was the fact that accounts needed to have accumulated at least $5 before withdrawal was possible. Posts on the forums indicated that many users had accounts with levels higher than $100, and were earning hundreds to thousands of dollars a month. Clients were forced to use Studiotraffic's own payment system, Studiopay (similar to PayPal), which charged a fee to transfer money from the user's Studiotraffic account to their Studiopay account, and also from the Studiopay account to a real bank account.
When you register for a Studiopay account, you had to "verify" who you are. They asked for a copy of a photographic form of identity, e.g. driving license with photo or passport.
The Management’s at this time was:
General Manager = Lorraine Brennan Fort Erie, Canada – she register ST business in Canada, opened Studio Traffic account in Royal Bank of Canada and TD Bank, the account was closed and money withdraw. Assistant General Manager = Jennefer Cullinan StudioPay Manager = Renata Cerman
On Nov 2005 “John” post on the St forum that, total membership fees stand at $20,021,560.00.
On Oct 5 2012, The US Department of Justice sent out this email to claimants:
Do not repel to this email. October 5, 2012
RE: Case Number 2006R00257 and Court Docket Number 10-CR-00461 US v Jeanne Maher:
The enclosed information is provided by the United States Department of Justice Victim Notification System (VNS). As a victim witness professional with the United States Attorney's Office, my role is to assist you with information and services during the prosecution of this case. I am contacting you because you were identified by law enforcement as a victim during the investigation of the above criminal case. The Department of Justice and the United States Attorney's Office for the Northern District of New York believes that it is important for all victims of crime to know their rights and to be familiar with the Federal Judicial System. Our Office has a Victim Witness Unit dedicated to providing you with information about the above-mentioned case and addressing any questions and concerns you may have, as a victim of this crime.
The United States District Court for the Northern District of New York has received funds from seized assets of the defendant, Jeanne Maher. These funds will be disbursed to those victims who were ordered restitution, to satisfy all or part of the restitution owed to them by the defendant.
Before the court officials will disburse these funds, they have asked that you contact them to verify your address and discuss any special mailing instructions to ensure that you receive your check.
Maria Devins Financial Supervisor U.S. District Court Northern District of New York 315-234-8536 [email address removed]
We have a Victim Witness Unit available to support and assist you with any questions or concerns. Please feel free to contact Victim Witness Coordinator, Ivy Schoff at 315-448-0672 or email at Ivy.Schoff@usdoj.gov Through the Victim Notification System (VNS) we will continue to provide you with updated scheduling and event information as the case proceeds through the criminal justice system. You may obtain current information about this case on the VNS Web site at https://www.notify.usdoj.gov or from the VNS Call Center at 1-866-DOJ-4YOU (1-866-365-4968) (TDD/TTY: 1-866-228-4619) (International: 1-502-213-2767). In addition, you may use the Call Center or Internet to update your contact information and/or change your decision about participation in the notification program. If you update your information to include a current email address, VNS will send information to that address. In order to continue to receive notifications, it is your responsibility to keep your contact information current.
You will use your Victim Identification Number (VIN) 2362868 and Personal Identification Number (PIN) 9859 anytime you contact the Call Center and the first time you log on to the VNS web site. In addition, the first time you access the VNS Internet site, you will be prompted to enter your last name (or business name) as currently contained in VNS. The name you should enter is Benesh. If you are receiving notifications with multiple victim ID/PIN codes please contact the VNS Help Desk.
Remember, VNS is an automated system and cannot answer questions. If you have other questions which involve this matter, please contact this office at the number listed above.
Sincerely, Richard S. Hartunian United States Attorney
Ivy Schoff Victim Witness Coordinator
If you do not want to receive email notifications from the Victim Notification System (VNS) or wish to no longer participate in the Department of Justice victim notification program, please log into the VNS Web site at https://www.notify.usdoj.gov. To stop receiving email notifications or change your email address select My Information and either remove your email address or provide a new address and click the "update" button. If you no longer wish to receive notifications in your case or access the VNS Web site and toll free telephone service, select Stop Receiving Notifications and follow the instructions on the screen.
If you believe you have received this email in error, please contact the office listed at top of the email message.
Please note, if this is the first notification you have received from VNS you will need to wait 4–8 hours from receipt of this email before you can login to the VNS Internet site (http://www.notify.usdoj.gov). In addition, it will also be 4–8 hours before any documents which may have been uploaded to VNS as part of this notification will available under the "Documents/Links" section on the Web page.
Cheques from the seized assets are to be mailed out first week of Nov 2012.