Cost-effective Marketing Ideas for a Medical Practice

The success of a private medical practice is largely dependent on its number of patients and the positive outcome of treatments. Ideally, every doctor or medical practitioner wants to advertise their services in the best possible way so as to reach the masses. However, many are not able to as the most common forms of marketing such as TV or print ads are not affordable for everyone. This is where online marketing comes into picture to promote a medical practice in a cost-effective way.

Creating a Search Engine Optimized Website

The first step is to create a website and make sure that it reaches the targeted group of patients. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) can help the doctor reach out to their target audience most effectively. In today’s fast age of internet, everybody relies on search engines like Google or Bing. If a practice does not show on the first page in search results for localized keywords, then chances of that doctor receiving patients could reduce.

To effectively market a website, it is important to ensure that the medical practice website is optimized for search engines. There are good SEO specialists who can aid in targeting a particular patient group and the location where the doctor operates. An example would be that of a dentist wanting his website to appear on the first page of Google search for people who are actively looking to get a root canal treatment or implants in his location. Effective SEO can aid in ensuring that a particular group of people are targeted.

Listing the Practice on Google ‘My Business’

Google has now advanced in making its search results more personalized and searchable in real time. They have made it easy to add a service provider, location and contact details along with web page search results. It is a good idea for a medical practice to be listed on Google My Business for enhanced online visibility and improved engagement with potential patients searching on Google for a suitable doctor.

Active Social Media Networking

Doctors can use social media to gain popularity and more patients. Profiles on twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn help in garnering more patients for a practice. By monitoring the online activities of industry influencers anyone can make their online presence substantial. However, in essence regular postings, professional updates and other news regarding a practice can help gain more followers.

Answering Question-Answer Sessions Online

Doctors can influence and gain popularity with many patients by answering online questions on forums such as Yahoo, Quora or LinkedIn. The goal should be not to provide answers just for the sake of gaining new patients, but to actually help the online readers with useful information. Many people who are online posting questions are looking for authoritative answers for their medical issues and concerns. By replying to such questions medical practitioners also increase their chances of being indexed by Google. Google indexes these answers, which then show up on the search results pages.

Going Live on YouTube

Medical marketing has tremendous scope on YouTube. There are over 4 billion videos watched per day on YouTube and growing. Doctors can very easily post videos in regards to their treatment options or they can have a narration in which they can help the viewer understand a complexity. The benefits of YouTube range from a wide market reach to multiple editing options.

There are also many people who specialize in uploading videos whose services can be employed for practitioners leading busy lives. However, in case of self-upload, few important aspects need to be added to the title as well as description such as the particular area of expertise and other related keywords.

Starting an Email Campaign

An effective email marketing campaign will cost next to nothing. It is among the most successful return on investment pursuits for professionals and small business owners. Database of potential receivers can easily be compiled with the help of appointments made, patient register and even social media followers. A simple online newsletter can help in keeping patients abreast of the latest happenings and stay engaged with the doctor’s practice and website.

Investing Time in a Blog

A doctor’s day can be very long and tiring. Taking out time to create a blog and maintaining it can be difficult. However, investing time in maintaining a blog has multiple advantages. It easily allows for churning new keywords on website content and optimizing results for search engines.

It also becomes a great way to connect with patients where existing patients can trust more as per the writings and new patients can begin to place their faith. It is also excellent to gain popularity by sharing information, updates or by simply offering advice to patients who might require it.

Blogging as a Guest

Apartfrommaintaining a self-blog, a doctor should invest time in publishing content on other people’s websites. There are numerous advantages to Guest posting, which include:

  • It is easy to drive traffic to website by linking a guest post to it.
  • It involves building relationships with other doctors. This aids in networking and proves to be symbiotic to both medical professionals.
  • It is possible to reach out to more people and potential patients by simply letting an outreach grow.

Starting a Podcast

Podcasting by way of content promotion is a very effective way of reaching out to a large number of people at the same time. To disseminate useful information and gain trust, doctors do not essentially need to upload videos.

They can upload podcasts on either their own sessions or somebody else’s session preferably from the same field. Podcasting is simple, not time consuming and very productive in marketing a practice online or building an online reputation.

Using Yelp to build on Patient Trust

Word of mouth has been a trust influencing force since a long time. With the advent of internet it has become easy to reach out to many patients at the same time and build trust. Yelp is among the best review portals online with real life episodes.

These are some of the most affordable ways doctors can ensure that their website grows in its reach and influence, and leads to an increase in patients for the practice.

About the Author:

Naren Arulrajah is President and CEO of Ekwa Marketing, a complete internet marketing company that focuses on SEO, social media, marketing education and the online reputations of doctors. With a team of 180+ full time marketers, www.ekwa.comhelps doctors who know where they want to go, get there by dominating their market and growing their business significantly year after year. If you have questions about marketing your practice online, call 855-598-3320 to speak one-on-one with Naren.

Inside Magic Leap’s Quest to Remake Itself as an Ordinary Company (With a Real Product)

In retrospect, Magic Leap CEO Rony Abovitz realizes that all the hype was a big mistake. “I think we were arrogant,” he says.

It’s nearly 11 pm on a Monday in late July, and we are in the back room of an Italian restaurant not far from the Fort Lauderdale beach. It’s a place he often takes visitors who make the trek from Los Angeles or San Francisco to Mickey Mouse’s Florida homeland for a demo. Oscar-winning visual effects wizard John Gaeta, known for his work on the Matrix and later at Lucasfilm’s ILMxLAB, sits to my right, having joined Magic Leap last year. Former Samsung executive Omar Khan, who is on day 11 in his new role as chief product officer, sits to my left. Everyone is in a good mood because finally, I mean finally, after two years of boastful promises followed by two years of near silence, the company is on the cusp of revealing a headset that actual developers—and any old person in the wild—will be able to buy and bring home.

But it’s unclear, now, whether enough people will be willing to try it. Such a thought would have been absurd just three years ago when Magic Leap was the hottest company in augmented reality, and any interaction with its secretive technology became a status symbol among techies. Yet Magic Leap has promised so much for so long, with no results to speak of, that many of those who occupied that first wave of hype have written off all hope that its infamous, mythical, mixed-reality product is real at all, let alone the transformative technology it set out to be.

Abovitz gets it. In the fall of 2014, when Magic Leap’s entire staff could still fit inside his conference room, and demos were run on a refrigerator-sized metal block nicknamed the Beast, Google led a $542 million series B investment. It was an absurd-sounding amount of money for such an early round of funding—and Google CEO Sundar Pichai joined Magic Leap’s board. Suddenly everyone was curious about the mysterious Google-backed tech company with a quirky founder who eschewed Silicon Valley’s norms—a man who planned to headquarter his company in Florida rather than moving to the West Coast.

Where virtual reality surrounds a user in an artificial world, augmented reality superimposes virtual objects into your real-world surroundings. In its simplest form, that means an overlay of information, like a dangling Pikachu in Pokémon Go. But Magic Leap, has sought to give those superimposed objects shape and heft—if you’re seeing something, you can touch it, or move it, or interact with it, as if it were real. Abovitz bragged that Magic Leap had a new super-slick method for superimposing these digital assets —a technique called digital lightfield technology—that was better than anything Microsoft or Facebook or anyone else had developed.

But Abovitz’s grand descriptions always seemed to fall short of explaining how this technology worked. Before Magic Leap had a headset or software or programs, it hired marketers to sell the Dream of Magic Leap, all the while promising that a product was just around the corner. Abovitz dropped mysterious hints on Twitter, hid Easter eggs inside old TED talks, and accepted an invitation to speak at the 2015 TED conference, bailing just days before his scheduled talk.

For the past four years, the headsets Abovitz has promised have failed to materialize, and tech prognosticators have begun to question whether people will even want to wear headsets at all, now that they can simply pull up apps on their iPhones to augment reality. The company has guarded its secrets, revealing very little about how digital lightfield technology works or what its future product might look like. Developers, analysts, and general tech enthusiasts had grown increasingly skeptical that Magic Leap was developing anything worth following at all. Headlines ask “Why Do People Keep Giving Magic Leap Money?” and cry “Believe It or not, Magic Leap Says Its Headset Will Ship ‘This Summer.’” As Jono MacDougall, developer and author of the blog GPU of the Brain, wrote, “It makes us feel like they are in a secret club and they won’t invite us in. It makes us feel like they think they are better than us.” He added, “It makes us want them to fail.”

Yet for all the things that have gone wrong, a few important things have worked out. Magic Leap has now raised more than $2.3 billion, enough money to fuel a lengthy research-and-development phase. It has built a stable of advisers and investors that include Alibaba executive vice chair Joe Tsai, Hollywood director Steven Spielberg, and Richard Taylor, who shepherds Magic Leap’s alliance with his mixed-reality and game studio, Weta Gameshop, a division of Weta Workshop. It has built an eclectic workforce of around 1,500 employees. Over the past year, under the leadership of new chief marketing officer Brenda Freeman, the company has endeavored to stop playing up the mystery and start telling people about the product it’s trying to build. “Secretive is this word that can be really loaded,” Freeman says. “The idea is to make sure people trust us and we have credibility.”

The first test of this trust is about to occur. Today, the company begins to sell a $2,295 headset called the Magic Leap One Creator Edition in six US cities. Abovitz is certain, or at least he’s really hoping, that once developers begin to play with the company’s invention, they’ll drop their complaints and change their minds about Magic Leap. And then, as they code new games and other experiences, everyone else will too. But Magic Leap’s next phase rests on its ability to do something wholly unconceivable to early Magic Leapers: It needs to succeed as an ordinary company.

Inside WeWork’s decision to go meat-free

The choices were driven by his employer: In mid-July, WeWork announced that it would no longer reimburse employees for meat eaten on business trips. The coworking giant also said that it would stop serving meat at events, including “Summer Camp,” its weekend-long music festival-slash-camp experience for employees and members. Small self-serve kiosks in some WeWork buildings that used to serve beef jerky took it off the menu. “We have made a commitment to be a meat-free organization,” WeWork cofounder Miguel McKelvey wrote in an email sent to all staff.

The new policy will cut the company’s environmental footprint, since meat is responsible for a large piece of the world’s climate emissions and also a major user of water and land. But it’s also an example of a new approach to corporate sustainability. “It’s emblematic of what I’m hoping is a really different way of thinking about sustainability for a company,” says Lindsay Baker, WeWork’s global head of sustainability, who started at the company in May.

[Photo: WeWork]

Right now, companies typically measure their own environmental impact and then make plans to reduce it. WeWork is doing the same thing, but also wants to go a step further, to create new systems–not just offsets. “We’re asking this bigger question, which is how much positive impact we can have on these things–how much of a difference can we make in the world, rather than just how do we make sure that we’re neutralizing our impact,” Baker says.

Other companies are also working to shift employee eating habits. At Google’s company cafeterias, menus nudge workers to choose plant-based foods by listing vegan options higher or highlighting them. A “blended burger,” a version of which is also sold at the fast-food chain Sonic, mixes mushrooms with meat to reduce the total amount of beef. Google’s chefs have also experimented with creating a plant-based “power dish” that can compete with the most popular dishes on restaurant menus, most of which contain meat. Sodexo, a food service company that makes meals for corporate cafeterias (along with schools, hospitals, and other institutions) is also adding more plant-based meals to its menus.

But WeWork’s choice to stop paying for meat is bolder. Alward says that it has changed his habits. “The biggest challenge with traveling and running around and talking to companies around the world is that meat tends to become autopilot,” he says. The new policy helped him shift away from the default. Alward, like some other WeWork employees, says that he is now also eating less meat even outside of work.

“It’s not a question whether they knew this was possible before,” says Baker. “It’s just a question of what your defaults are and what your routines are.” The change has come under some external criticism, and not every employee was thrilled with the change, though Baker wouldn’t comment about employee pushback, except to say: “Certainly human opinions always range, but it’s fostered a lot of really great dialogue, which is exactly what we were hoping for.”

How, and why, we took the plunge to start-up – Bigsmall Co-founder Yatin Hans

For any startup that harbours long-term ambitions, surviving the first year of operations and coming out unscathed is key. The first year brings with it self-doubts, human resource challenges, issues with co-founders if there are multiple partners, financial crunches, and market challenges. Tiding over these difficulties and surviving to tell the story by making it to the second year takes guts and perseverance, and only a few are blessed with it. YourStory is happy to present a new series of articles as part of the series Survival Instinct, that track how leading startups battled the demons and survived the first year of their operations. Today we bring to you the unique gifting platform Bigsmall.

Entrepreneurship was certainly a new experience for Aman and me – before we embarked on the Bigsmall adventure, both of us had good jobs in top companies in our respective industries. However, we both had this unstoppable urge to create something new, to make a difference in the world. This awakened the entrepreneur within us. We recognized a gap in the gifting industry – the lack of unique gifting portals. The time was also right – the e-commerce industry was booming and it was easy to enter. Eventually, we decided to take the plunge, creating Bigsmall.in.

Bigsmall Co-founders Aman Hans (left) and Yatin Hans.

The first year is not about you – it’s about the vision

As a famous entrepreneurship quote goes, “Entrepreneurship is living some time of your life like most people won’t, so that you can spend the rest of your life like most people can’t.” Certainly, the first year is the time you spend like most people won’t. Establishing the business took capital, and as a bootstrapped startup, it was just our previous savings. In the beginning, it was just Aman and me, and we did not take out any salaries for the first year. We kept reinvesting whatever revenue we made back into the business. We believed that our vision would lead to greater profits down the line rather than taking out minimal profits at the outset.

When you take such a plunge, people start doubting your decision to leave well-paid jobs to start your own business. This creates a certain kind of pressure but we were prepared for whatever came our way, with an unwavering belief in ourselves and the vision. As new entrepreneurs, we talked to a lot of people and learned from a lot of places. It wasn’t always smooth sailing. At the start, Aman and I had to pack all the products ourselves, as we didn’t have money to hire anyone. We needed a space to store our products, but at the start, we could not afford that either, so we stored and packed products out of our house’s storeroom.

Eventually, as business started to take off, we were able to hire our first person – an operations head – after 10 months. Two years later, we have a full-fledged operations team and a dedicated packaging team.

Identifying your niche is key

Once we entered the e-commerce segment, we realized entry was easy, but surviving wasn’t easy. The first year was all about survival. One of the key challenges early on is identifying your brand’s niche. As an e-commerce company, a lot of customers expected us to offer the same services as Amazon, Flipkart, and Snapdeal. These big companies had set the benchmark of what an e-commerce portal should do, which was primarily offering discounts and free returns. But without even a fraction of the kind of resources these companies have, we were not in a position to compete with these companies and do what they did.

For a customer, it is not easy to understand the distinction, so we began to differentiate ourselves and build our own niche – that of unique and quirky gifts.

Very quickly, it became apparent to both us and our customers that we were just not any e-commerce company – we had our own niche. We were never competing with the likes of Amazon, and we began creating our own space through our unique style and collection. All that was only possible because we identified our niche quickly.

Set realistic goals for progress – and believe in your idea

It was also important to have realistic, step-by-step goals for progression. Casual outsiders think entrepreneurship is about making big bucks quick, but that’s not how it works. We had planned the first year to be a proof-of-concept – understanding the industry, the market, the business, the targeted audience, our niche, and implementing our own. We tested the waters gradually and saw if our idea worked.

At the outset, we kept limited products, so that we didn’t have to stock a large inventory of items. We also tested each and every product to see how it fared in the market before ordering large quantities. Stock management was extremely important to avoid excess stocking, but we needed to have enough stock to manage our campaigns and requirements and drive more revenues. We identified certain fast-moving products, which would drive customers to our website, and built our inventory around them.

It was also fundamental for us to completely believe in our idea. Once we believed, we had more conviction to express it to our customers. If you don’t believe in your idea yourself, how will you make others believe in it? It was the passion that kept us driven – the passion to create something, be unique, and make our own space led us from then, to now.

Sourcing, the website, and logistics – the backbones of business

Especially in the case of an e-commerce business, sourcing and logistics are the fundamentals of your business, and it was imperative to get them spot-on. In the first year, sourcing products from various locations was one of the biggest challenges. We did not have much knowledge in that field, but we talked to a lot of people and gained a lot of knowledge. We curated an inventory of high-quality, unique yet utilitarian products to attract customers to our website and carve out our niche.

Naturally, for an online business, a fully functioning website is the spine. Since a customer’s first impression is based on the website’s design and content – and it’s human nature to have first impressions last long – that was not an area we could compromise on. We tried out a lot of different platforms to see what worked best for us. After eight months, we settled on Shopify, an e-commerce solution which gave us the best platform for us to base our business on.

For e-commerce portals, logistics and shipping are one of the most important processes. It is something you may not have direct control over, yet it has a huge bearing on your reputation amongst customers. Thus, it was another area we had to find the best. We tied up with several of the biggest shipping companies to ensure our customers got timely delivery. As a gifting portal, delivering according to the timeline was all the more important.

In case of shipping, we believed that communication with the customer is key. There should be absolutely no communication gaps to leave the customer wondering, even when it is not in our own control. Even if it was a single day delay, we used to personally call up the customers to keep them in the loop at all times. Communication leaves clarity in the mind of the customer and leads to higher satisfaction. We believe this has also been one of our biggest differentials from ordinary e-commerce websites.

Creating trust amongst customers

You have an idea, you believe in it – now you have to make the customers believe in it, and buy your products. It was important to build a trust amongst our customers and let them know that what we were selling was indeed real and genuine, especially made integral by the fact that as a unique gifting portal, most of our products were so quirky that the customers had never seen them before, and often they wanted to see it to believe it.

We came up with an idea to set up a WhatsApp number, where customers could request real-time pictures of a product they were interested in. Often, in the e-commerce segment, customers feel let down when they don’t receive what they see on the website. We believed in creating trust by making absolutely clear what the product they would be ordering is.

It would also serve as a platform for customers to freely ask any questions about products on WhatsApp chat, and know that there was indeed a human on the other side they were talking to, not a bot. We also often called up our customers. We focused on not just selling unique gifts. We also wanted to create a unique experience – the Bigsmall experience – of buying from Bigsmall, and these personalized touches helped in creating this experience.

Till today, we have this real-time pictures and queries on WhatsApp feature. This helped us create transparency and trust amongst our customers. We believe our transparency also helped us differentiate from e-commerce websites while tackling the challenge of creating trust.

Entrepreneurship is akin to riding a dragon – there are more ups and downs than you can ever imagine. But every challenge on the way only makes you stronger, and every failure only bears new learnings. As Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said, “I knew that if I failed I wouldn’t regret that, but I knew the one thing I might regret is not trying,” and look where trying got him. If you have an idea, if you believe you can execute it, and if you have the belief in yourself, take a ride on this roller coaster and see where it lands you.

Yatin Hans is the Co-founder of Bigsmall.in.

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

Donor helping fraudsters, offshore bettors backs Trump

NEW YORK — One customer was a debt collector that threatened to jail people if they didn’t pay back loans that they never took out. Another was an offshore gambling operation that hid bets behind innocuous-sounding websites, including one dedicated to orange cats. A third was a phone-sex business catering to men with diaper fetishes or fantasies of raping women.

Ahmad “Andy” Khawaja made his fortune in online payment processing for a host of companies, providing a key conduit in e-commerce for “high risk” merchants by helping route customers’ credit card purchases to banks. And recently Khawaja has shared that wealth in the form of multimillion-dollar political donations, first to Hillary Clinton and then to Donald Trump.

But thousands of internal company documents obtained by The Associated Press reveal that Khawaja’s company, Allied Wallet Inc., has profited from guiding dubious businesses past the gates of the banking system. The records, which include email conversations as well as business and financial documents, show Allied Wallet executives helped deploy sham websites and dummy companies to hide these businesses’ tracks, even in cases where Allied Wallet’s own staff deemed the underlying business activities to be “very, very illegal.”

The company’s actions in these cases flout bank policies, credit card network rules and potentially U.S. laws designed to prevent money laundering. In one instance, a company official complained to Khawaja that a colleague had provided “specific instructions on how to set up and operate an illegal gaming operation online.”

Khawaja and a company lawyer didn’t address a detailed list of questions from the AP about Allied Wallet’s business, as well as Khawaja’s political giving, for over a month.

This week the Los Angeles-based company’s marketing director, A.J. Almeda, said in a statement that “any accusations of illicit or prohibited activities are misleading and categorically false.” Almeda called the AP’s line of inquiry “a political hit job due to the Allied Wallet’s contribution to President Donald Trump’s inauguration and support of his tax cut agenda.”

The Lebanese-born Khawaja gave more than $4 million to Clinton’s failed presidential campaign and other Democrats, then began extending his largesse to Republicans after a lunch with Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy two weeks after Trump clinched the presidency.

Within days of that lunch, Khawaja met Trump at a $5,000-per-person transition fundraiser in Manhattan. Soon after he contributed $1 million to his inaugural committee, eventually earning himself a photo with the president inside the Oval Office.

The documents reviewed by the AP provide an unprecedented look behind the scenes of Khawaja’s company, which claims to process billions of dollars a year in online transactions.

They also come against the backdrop of a previous run-in with federal authorities over processing illegal online gambling proceeds: In 2010, Khawaja and his company were forced to give up $13 million in a civil forfeiture stemming from a sprawling FBI probe into the online poker industry.

“The reason they had to forfeit the money was they were acting on behalf of an illegal gambling outfit,” said Roy Pollitt, a former FBI special agent who worked the case. “Based upon the agreement that was made years ago, it’s troubling to hear there might be similar behaviour still occurring.”

Allied Wallet’s past hasn’t stopped Washington from accepting Khawaja’s political generosity.

In all, Khawaja, his company and its executives have contributed at least $6 million to politicians and political organizations since late 2015, according to an AP review of disclosure reports.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the company and its executives have given nearly $1 million more to Republican candidates and committees, including $200,000 from Khawaja to Rep. Ron DeSantis, a Trump-backed candidate running for governor in Florida.

Donations to Democrats include nearly $2 million to the Democratic National Committee, along with a who’s who of top candidates, including Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill.

In June, the Senate minority leader, New York Democrat Chuck Schumer, appointed Khawaja as one of nine members on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In April, Charlie Kirk, the outspoken head of the pro-Trump super PAC Turning Point USA, touted Khawaja on Twitter as a beneficiary of Trump’s tax plan.

Nobody in Washington, Democrat or Republican, appears to have questioned how Khawaja earned his money, and what exactly Khawaja might hope to gain from his political giving is not entirely clear. The records reviewed by the AP show that Khawaja has pursued foreign business deals, including an investment by a United Arab Emirates-controlled wealth fund, a prospective deal with an Iranian bank and a potential business arrangement with Lebanon. Some U.S. senators he has supported are on the banking committee, which writes laws governing his industry.

——

‘IT JUST SCARED ME SO I PAID IT’

Last August, the Trump administration ended a Justice Department effort called Operation Choke Point that investigated banks and other financial institutions working in industries such as payday lending that carry high risks of fraud.

That kind of policy change could be helpful for Allied Wallet customers like Stark Law LLC of Chicago, an aggressive debt collector that posed as a law firm and threatened tens of thousands of Americans into giving them money — often for payday loans they never even signed up for.

That’s what happened to Mary Liz Nogueras when a Stark debt collector called her at work in late 2015 and threatened to take her to court if she didn’t immediately pay $890 to cover an outstanding payday loan. Nogueras didn’t recall owing any money but was frightened by the collector’s abrasiveness, so she offered up her credit card number over the phone.

“It just scared me so I paid it,” said Nogueras, who lives in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, with her husband and their two children, one of whom has special needs.

A few months later, in March 2016, Federal Trade Commission regulators and Illinois prosecutors charged Stark’s owners with running a massive fraud operation, eventually forcing them out of the debt collection business entirely, issuing a $47 million judgment against them and making them personally forfeit $9 million — along with a 1-kilogram gold bar — to settle the claims.

Eight months before Stark was busted, Allied Wallet set up credit card processing for a web of online merchants that supposedly sold home goods but actually were owned by payday loan-related companies with names like Clearwater Lending, the records reviewed by the AP show. The arrangement included some indications of suspicious activity: The websites lacked inventory, were unable to collect payments and failed to correctly spell words like “towels.”

Whenever a bank caught the obvious misconduct, Allied Wallet would shut down the site and notify the bank of its actions — but then route the same payments through a new fake company, the records show. In just one month in late 2015, consumers filed hundreds of fraud complaints with their credit card companies about bills from Stark and a web of other front companies, the documents show.

In October 2015, just three months after Allied Wallet began processing for Stark Associates Ltd., a UK shell company that handled the Stark debt collections, a risk analyst warned Allied Wallet about questionable transactions on the account, examining in detail the sale of a yellow curtain valance supposedly shipped to a nonexistent address: 123 Main Street in Townsville, New York.

Not only had one of the banks processing Stark’s payments — OCBC Wing Hang Bank in Macau — noticed multiple fraud complaints on the account, the analyst wrote, but also the websites on the account itself were fishy, designed exactly like another site that Allied had recently shut down for engaging in “transaction laundering,” according to the email.

A month later, the risk analyst followed up with top Allied employees, this time certain Stark was not legitimate: “In case it is of interest to you, we have now received a chargeback case that confirms that the merchant STARK, which you already closed, was indeed misrepresenting its business and offering loan services instead of home decor,” the analyst wrote.

But the risk analyst was mistaken.

Allied Wallet hadn’t stopped processing for Stark and continued to do so until February 2016, one month before regulators busted the company, the emails show.

The account itself was moved to a related company called Rolling Plains Ltd., according to a November 2015 email to Allied Wallet’s chief operating officer, Moe Diab, from Tom Wells, an intermediary who brought Allied the Stark accounts in exchange for a percentage of the business.

“They never stopped processing,” Wells wrote. “In fact you made payment to new acct this week.”

Regulators named Gaurav Mohindra as a key player in the Stark debt-collection scheme. He told the AP he had never heard of Allied Wallet. Incorporation records show he was the director of Stark Associates Ltd., the UK corporation Allied Wallet created for the supposed home decor website jvalances.com that was used to disguise Nogueras’ $890 fake debt payment when it was passed along to Visa.

Wells did not return phone and email messages seeking comment.

——

‘I NEED YOU TO HELP ME HELP YOU’

With most of the questionable customers Allied Wallet took on, the documents show, the company appeared to seek plausible deniability.

First, Allied Wallet helped businesses create dormant shell corporations in the United Kingdom to access its network of friendly banks from Malta to Macau, the records show. Then it coached clients on how to curate their websites to fool investigators performing compliance checks for banks and credit card companies, the documents reveal.

“Remove the video of the woman being tortured in the top left corner of the home page,” Amy Ringler, the company’s vice-president of operations, wrote to one pornography client in October 2012, noting the video would violate Mastercard’s standards.

Once websites passed muster, company officials would then route those businesses’ incoming payments to banks willing to accept them. If a merchant racked up too many fraud complaints — or a bank caught on to suspicious behaviour — Allied Wallet would sometimes simply shift the account to a new institution to start fresh. In exchange, Allied Wallet charged hefty rates and fees as a processor of last resort for especially risky clientele, the records show.

These merchants were then mixed in with others that Allied Wallet sent to banks which, though considered in the industry to be “high-risk,” weren’t necessarily legally problematic. Among them: clients peddling multilevel marketing deals, IT help desk services and natural supplements, the records show.

Not all customers were happy with Allied Wallet’s insistence on holding funds for long stretches to cover expected chargeback and fraud fees, but the nature of legally dubious businesses prevented many from finding an alternative processor.

“Why would anyone use a high priced processor unless they have a questionable product?” the frustrated CEO of an unusual Irish company that specializes in selling phoney ATM receipts, forged hotel bills and other fabricated documents wrote in a March 2016 email to company officials. “If I’m going to go to the bother of pretending I am a clean green business, then I’ll use a payment system that gets me more of the money in a quicker manner.”

To help the now-defunct website http://www.phonesexcoffeehouse.com get its payments processed by American Express — which the credit card company wouldn’t otherwise accept — Allied Wallet worked with the company to disguise its true business, the records showed.

The website charged callers in the U.S. $2 a minute to talk about various fetishes or engage in elaborate rape fantasies with female accomplices, according to an archived webpage.

To co-ordinate their arrangement, an Allied Wallet salesman used a private email address to communicate with Donna Jones, one of the sex line’s owners: “I’ll help you out but I need you to help me help you, notice the email I’m sending this from.”

To avoid raising the suspicions of American Express, Jones and Allied Wallet funneled the payments through another business Jones owned that had nothing to do with sex: a home-cleaning company called WKPS Group, according to the records.

“We will do whatever is asked, and keep our mouths shut,” Jones wrote. “You can make a lot of money with us, I will do as you say.”

Just 45 minutes after the arrangement started, Allied Wallet’s chief compliance officer issued an urgent internal warning based on a tip: The cleaning company had already been identified by a rival processor as a front for phone-sex transactions.

The November 2016 warning went unanswered. Some company officials knew the cleaning business was a front because they already were using it that way.

American Express declined to address Allied Wallet or the records detailing how it processed funds for the defunct sex site. In a statement, a spokesman, Andrew Johnson, said the company could require a processor to cancel processing for merchants that break the law, violate its rules or damage its brand.

Jones could not be reached for comment. She did not return a message sent to the email addresses she used to correspond with Allied Wallet.

——

‘VERY, VERY ILLEGAL’

The records show that Allied Wallet also took extraordinary steps to disguise how it processed payments for online gamblers — a bold foray back into an industry that just years earlier had involved Khawaja in an FBI investigation.

To settle claims from a 2010 federal probe involving the website PokerStars, Khawaja enlisted former FBI Director Louis Freeh to negotiate with federal prosecutors in New York and write anti-money laundering policies for Allied Wallet, according to court records.

Since then, Khawaja appears to have avoided processing payments for U.S. bettors, the records show. But the documents show that his company has accepted and obscured international business from GVC Holdings PLC, one of the most prominent gambling outfits in the online industry, often in places where online gambling is prohibited or highly regulated.

For example, Allied Wallet handled processing for a company behind the now-defunct, bare-bones website totembazaar.com, which claimed to sell e-books and told credit card companies that it was selling miscellaneous general merchandise.

It wasn’t.

The website was a front, listed in 2012 business paperwork for LLJH Ltd., a company owned by Elizabeth Cullen, then a top corporate officer at GVC Holdings PLC, according to the records.

The records obtained by the AP show that top GVC executives collaborated with Allied Wallet and a trusted middleman to hide gambling operations involving currencies from countries where online betting is illegal or highly regulated, including Turkey, Brazil and Mexico.

Just before Christmas 2012, Jim Humberstone, GVC’s head of operations, worked with Wells, the intermediary who would later bring the fraudulent Stark debt collectors to Allied Wallet, the emails show.

The records show that Wells passed GVC’s information along to Khawaja and other top Allied Wallet company officials, who placed the business in an Allied Wallet account called Bluestar 7. That account handled payments for totembazzar, along with the site radialmarkets.com, which GVC claimed was owned by a company called JHLL Ltd.

“I’m concerned about the descriptor containing ‘GVC’ could we remove this and have ‘Radial’ and ‘Totem’ alone?” Lisa Lupi, then the head of GVC’s risk department, wrote in an email to Wells.

Allied Wallet made the changes and processed payments for the gambling sites, switching the Bluestar 7 account every week between two banks, Borgun in Iceland and Postbank in Germany.

In February 2016, Wells wrote to top Allied Wallet officials to inquire about leftover reserves in the Bluestar gambling accounts on behalf of GVC, noting they were handling Brazilian, Mexican or Turkish currencies, according to the email.

Online betting is highly regulated in Mexico and Brazil. In Turkey, it is prohibited altogether; an internal Allied Wallet guide to global casino regulations described it as “very, very illegal” there.

Humberstone and GVC’s head of corporate communications did not respond to emails and phone calls over several weeks seeking comment. Lupi and Cullen didn’t return emailed messages.

Allied Wallet’s chief operating officer, Diab, said in a brief phone interview that he didn’t know what GVC was and denied the company transacted for it.

“We don’t do gambling at all,” he told the AP, directing further questions to Khawaja and a company lawyer.

Khawaja and the lawyer did not respond to specific questions from the AP about the company’s business practices.

As recently as February 2017, Allied Wallet operated as many as two dozen Bluestar accounts, recycling old companies to host websites that served as fronts for gambling operations, the records show. The sites could be created as fast as they shut down.

“This is the URL that was closed the other day because the bank said the transactions were coming from a gaming website,” Ringler, the Allied Wallet vice-president of operations, wrote to Wells in May 2014 regarding a site called plusfigurines.com.

Plusfigurines.com was being processed via an Allied Wallet account called Bluestar 18, another account dedicated to gambling. But to keep the business flowing, Allied Wallet needed new fronts to disguise the transactions.

“I need a different website, descriptor and company from you,” Ringler wrote Wells in an email reviewed by The AP.

The risks from the gambling business weren’t lost on company officials, the documents show.

In May 2015, the company’s chief compliance officer emailed the top Allied Wallet executives that he had personally verified a company salesman giving “specific instructions on how to set up and operate an illegal gaming operation online.”

That prompted Khawaja to interject: “Guys, stop this… Come on.”

Nine months later, Wells, the trusted Allied Wallet intermediary, notified top company officials that he would be meeting with GVC in London and wanted to know what procedure to follow to open a new set of disguised gambling accounts, according to a February 2016 email.

“Can we create website and eu Corp as before or has anything changed?” Wells asked.

The response from Diab, Allied Wallet’s chief operating officer: “Set up will be the same.”

——

Horwitz reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Chad Day and editor Ted Bridis in Washington contributed to this report.

    Welcome to the new NBR

    Welcome to this site’s first major upgrade in nearly five years.

    We have a bunch of good stuff to look forward to, some of which didn’t quite make our launch.

    But before we get to that, here are some housekeeping details you need to know:

    The first time you visit the news site you’ll have to log back in. The logon button will be in the familiar location on the top right.

    Use your email address as your logon (you might be using your user name at present, or have it auto-filled by your browser – so make sure you change it to your email if necessary).

    If you can’t remember your password, hit the “Request new password button.”

    People at IP sub organisations will have to register

    Roughly half of our readers come to NBR via an IP or office-wide subscription. Your boss has paid for a subscription that covers your whole office network, so you have not had to log on to access padlocked paid stories. You will still have free access as an employee but you will have to create an individual account the first time you visit our site after our upgrade.

    Click the green bar that should appear smack in the middle of your screen (as opposed to the Login button top right) to begin the process.

    It will only take a few seconds. We’re only after a couple of details and, if you click the “Remember Me” checkbox, you’ll stay logged in.

    We’ve added this feature in response to comments from staff at IP sub companies who have wanted their own identity on their site to leave comments under their own name (or a pen name), plus the ability to sign up to our free email alerts and other customisation features. If you have any hassles with this process, email customerservices@nbr.co.nz.

    The new registration requirement is purely so people at organisations can customise their NBR experience (a much-requested feature). Your data won’t be shared with third parties.

    Tighter comment rules

    We still allow anonymous comments because, while it’s admirable when people put their name to a comment, some of our best, most revealing comments come from those who don’t and we would hate to lose that. But there will be one change: People with a registered account and verified email will be allowed to comment. In short, you can be anonymous to other readers but not to NBR staff.

    Display names or non-de-plumes are somewhat fraught with our current site, and don’t work for all readers. They should work well with the new site. You will be able to set your display name by accessing MyNBR (by clicking your name at the top right of the home page.

    Faster, faster, faster

    Previous upgrades of this website have precariously balanced new features on top of old ones, in precarious Blu-Tak and Sellotape fashion, meaning we’re not the fastest or most stable site in the country.

    The new NBR has been recreated from the ground up.

    Plus, it will be in a brand spanking new hosting environment: the Catalyst Cloud (Catalyst is also our web development company).

    So our new site should load in a snap, whatever device you’re viewing it on.

    Like its predecessor, our upgraded site will be “responsive,” meaning it automatically resizes to fit a smartphone or tablet screen. But we’ve created a single content engine that we can use to feed our website, or a mobile app (coming soon) or video and smart TV apps.

    New features

    One thing people didn’t like about our old site is the way the paywall makes it problematic to share stories via email or social media. If you share a padlocked link, you often get flamed.

    Our new site addresses this with a new feature that lets newcomers access two articles a week for free.

    So you can now share a link on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn, safe in the knowledge that your followers can access it for free if they’re willing to cough up their name and email (no, they won’t have to add their credit card details).

    Speaking of social media, we’ll also have a new social media logon option. So, if you happen to get logged out on your mobile, you’ll be able to get back into NBR with one click, as long as you’re already logged in to Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or Google on your device.

    The new site will also let you save articles to a favourites list – a much-requested feature, and one that will soon be supplemented by an offline or “airline” reading mode.

    We’re also adding NBR View and NBR Radio portals, or pages dedicated to our growing video and audio content.

    And our free NBR Radio stream will be supplemented by a new free NBR View stream highlighting our best video clips from the past couple of days.

    While the stream will be free, only subscribers will be able to pick and mix and graze at will through videos attached to individual stories, or featured on our NBR View portal.

    More visual design

    You’ve probably got your pet hates about the old site. Mine were that it was darn slow (which we have hopefully remedied), and the constipated design for article pages, which stems largely from a debate during our last upgrade about whether there should be ads within stories.

    The sales department prevailed that time around. This time, we have big, wide, uncluttered article pages. You’ll have decent-size images and videos, and they’ll appear at the top of stories.

    You’ll also have a much cleaner and more visual home page.

    We will still have pretty much the same mix of sections, and you should find it easy to locate everything from the nav bar at the top of the site.

    But I hope you’re also surprised in a good way – after you get over the inevitable shock of the new – at the new, more appealing design.

    You will notice that we feature fewer stories on the new home page.

    And indeed, if you’ve been watching closely, you notice that we’ve already scaled back the number of articles we do.

    It’s all about increasing our emphasis on quality over quantity. We want to spend more time on analysis brought to you by what is easily New Zealand’s most experienced business newsroom, including heavy-hitters like Duncan Bridgeman, Fiona Rotherham, Tim Hunter, Jenny Ruth and Victoria Young, to name a few.

    If Winston Peters gets hit by a bus, thenStuffor the Herald is likely to beat us to the story. But we’re not worried about the first blush. We don’t want to be the place you go to for the fastest or the brashest coverage – we want to be your destination for the best coverage.

    And we’re not going to offer a spray of articles beyond your business interests just to drive traffic – because we’re just not interested in having the largest traffic. Which brings us to:

    Fewer ads

    One of the things I do like about our current site is that it’s ad-light.

    You would be hard-pressed to find a news site with fewer advertisements.

    While all websites have to grapple with the reality that the online advertising market is a cruel and thankless space for anyone who lacks Google and Facebook’s scale, NBR’s publisher is one of the few who has done anything about it.

    We’ve moved to a reader-first model that’s built on subscriptions delivering most of NBR’s revenue.

    In a happy coincidence for readers, that means tougher editorial. People won’t resubscribe if we serve up clickbait or churnalism.

    The reader-first approach also funnels through to the new design: There are still banner ads at the top of each page but none inside articles. Our publisher’s ultimate goal is to ditch the ads altogether.

    Yeah, yeah, he’s already making excuses …

    Cards on the table: In the grand tradition of every IT project ever, the upgrade is running late.

    There is a whole bunch of features that haven’t been quite ready for launch day, and some that have just gone AWOL, such as a soon-to-be-restored “share” button on stories. You’ll see a lot of nips, tucks and additions over the next two weeks.

    Post-upgrade tweaks will be informed through your feedback, so please let me know via ckeall@nbr.co.nz what’s working for you, what’s not, and what you’d like to see added or changed.

    And, of course, as with any upgrade, there will be a few bugs and glitches. All we can say on that front is: Bear with us.

    Hopefully, there won’t be too many hairy moments but there will be a few. When things go south please let us know. Any heads-up about a bug, or other constructive criticism, will be greatly appreciated.

    Our publisher has poured a truckload of money into our upgrade and, by hook or by crook, we will deliver you a much stronger, more useful NBR.