I first became aware of an online auction website known as Zeek’s Rewards or Zeekler last Friday via an email from the editor the Lexington Dispatch, one of the North Carolina newspapers with whom we now share an owner. Chad Killebrew said this company based in his town was under scrutiny by the state and possibly the feds for potentially operating a scam. He shared this information because his newspaper’s website had 300,000 page views only a few hours after the story was posted.
He thought other Halifax newspapers in the state would be interested.
At first I was curious why something I had ever heard of might have so much intense interest. So we posted a version of Lexington’s story with a link from a sidebar back to their website.
Lo and behold, the story took off here as well. For several days the stories involving Zeek, the eventual SEC shutdown of the site and the state attorney general’s interest in it were among the Most Viewed stories on thetimesnews.com. People are reading these stories from all over the nation and leaving a trail of comments either in support of Zeek’s or highly critical of what the SEC is now calling a massive Ponzi scheme — one of those deals where people who get in early get wealthy and the ones on the bottom row of the pyramid get took.
Before the afternoon was done on Friday it was apparent there was a local connection of some kind to Zeek’s Rewards, so much so that we printed a version of Lexington’s story on our front page Saturday.
Not long after posting the original story online, I began to receive email or Facebook messages from people urging us to look deeper into Zeek’s Rewards and its impact in Alamance County. One told me that several hundred people here signed up and sent money to Zeek’s and that many were recruited at an operation called Triad International Marketing Group. Another person told me that recruitment meetings were held two nights a week there to sell the operation to those interested in making good money.
And some did make good money — at least on paper — and quickly spread the gospel of Zeek’s far and wide to their friends and family members.
But potential users were warned repeatedly not to call it an “investment” or use the word “invest.” Multiple sources said they were told that it was NOT an “investment” and should never be referred to as an “investment” under any circumstances. I got an email from a woman in Florida vehement in her protection of Zeek’s who contended in all capital letters that the mistakes were related to people ignoring the extensive training and using the “I” word.
For me that notation sets off an alarm bell. Investment isn’t usually a taboo word, unless something fishy is potentially going on. Clearly, the Securities and Exchange Commission considers it an investment, even if Zeek’s Rewards and its affiliates continue to claim otherwise.
Since then, we’ve tried to gain traction on this story with only limited success. One name that came up frequently as someone who advised friends to join Zeek’s Rewards is Holly Hill Mall co-owner and prominent business leader Dave Morton. He also put money in the company and wanted to share the success he felt he was having. We contacted him and he declined to speak for the record. Others have been equally silent when we call.
We have also been in contact with the state Attorney General’s Office but have little new or different information to report.
With few avenues left, we’re hoping that someone from our area who put money into Zeek’s Rewards will contact us and speak to us for a story. One thing readers don’t often realize is that articles for publication are formed by using public information and interviews. With neither, all we have are a few stray facts and some heresay. The Greensboro News & Record was able to put together something on Zeek’s this week because a local “investor” (that word again) came forward.
Anyone from Alamance County wishing to be part of a story about Zeek’s Rewards or Triad International Marketing Group can contact me (email@example.com) or city editor Brent Lancaster (firstname.lastname@example.org).
And thanks to our new friends in Lexington for making the original story available. It’s created quite a stir.
UPDATE: Apparently Zeek’s affiliates, basically anyone who put a dime into it, have filed a class action lawsuit. The latest Lexington Dispatch story lists all the “affiliates” – read investors — who are part of the lawsuit so far. No one from Alamance County is on the list.
That will likely change.