Meet the Don Con of Alabama


February 27, 2019

Claiming to be an ex-Google exec, Kyle Sandler scammed a small Alabama town out of $1.9m with a fake business incubator.
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As protections disappear, the $90B payday lending industry lives to prey another day

The $90B payday loan industry lends money to 12m cash-strapped Americans at sky-high interest rates, forcing them to take out loans to pay off their loans, a cycle that prompted the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) to start cracking down on the industry in 2017.

But despite its mission to protect consumers, the CFPB is rolling back those protections, and an unlikely coalition is rallying to fill the void.

‘Mayday! Mayday! I’m broke before payday!’

Lenders charge high interest rates for emergency “payday” loans that will be paid off by the borrowers’ next payday — in theory, at least.

In reality, the cycle of short-term borrowing leads to more debt: 60% of short-term borrowers take out 7 or more loans in a row.

The CFPB introduced a set of regulations to require lenders to determine borrowers’ ability to repay loans before putting their hooks into them. But the CFPB’s new director is now rolling back those consumer protections.

Don’t you hate it when the consumer watchdog switches teams?

According to The New York Times, the past 2 leaders of the CFPB have been “more interested in rewarding the lending industry than protecting borrowers” — AKA doing the exact opposite of their job titles. 

Of the 12m people forced to use payday loans, 80% are back within 2 weeks to borrow more.

Now the federal bureau created to serve them is eliminating protections to “encourage competition in the payday lending industry.”  

States, startups, and banks to the rescue

States are now the first line of defense against payday predation: 16 states have already banned payday loans (that’s great for them — but in 6 states the average payday loan interest rate remains higher than 600%).

Several startups including HoneyBee and Stash have rolled out products to cater to the underbanked, and even PayPal has introduced inexpensive, non-predatory options for small loans.

Even banks — which historically haven’t offered small loans — are starting to offer better deals for borrowers. A $400 payday loan would cost $350 after 3 months: Banks offer the same loan for $48.

Groans and loans
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Honey, I shrunk the stadium: Low attendance is causing many sports teams to downsize

As professional sports attendance shrinks in the US, Axios reports, so does the size of stadiums.

With in-home viewing reaching peak physical condition, people are less motivated to spend $200 to see the Browns get destroyed by [insert team here] than they are to watch the same bloodbath at home.

Shaping up as predicted

Per Axios, in the year 2000, futurist Watts Wacker predicted that stadiums of the future would be designed more like sound stages — with fewer seats and optimized for TV and budding innovations like VR.

Some franchises have already hung up their oversized cleats: In baseball, the Braves, Marlins, Twins, and Yankees have all downsized, and the Rays, a team already notorious for low attendance, are shrinking 31k seats to roughly 25k this season.

Many NBA arenas are cutting back on the amount of box suites hanging from the rafters, and the new 65k-seat stadium the Raiders are building in Las Vegas will be one of the NFL’s smallest. 

Flag on the play

HD TVs, instant replay, controlled forecast — there are a million reasons not to see a televised sporting event IRL, and the high-speed internet generation is utilizing every single one of them.

With a new, future-forward core audience, the experience has shifted from actually watching 2 teams duke it out to an interactive experience — stadium architects are even beginning to reinvent upper deck seating, replacing seats with lounges and social spaces.

In other words, people want live sporting events to feel more like Coachella than the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl these days — and they may have a point. 

» Live music between innings?

Direct-to-consumer bra biz ThirdLove raises $55m to prove it knows Victoria’s Secret

ThirdLove, a direct-to-consumer underwear startup, raised $55m to take on Victoria and the other leading ladies of the lingerie biz.

Unlike some competitors, the 6-year-old ThirdLove caters to bodies of all shapes and sizes, and with a $750m valuation in the round, its formula seems to be working. 

Battle of the bras

ThirdLove’s goal is to make “a bra for every body” by using a 60-second “Fit Finder” questionnaire to help create a perfectly fitting bra.

Unlike Victoria’s Secret, which is often criticized for offering bras that are only fit for supermodels and magazine covers, ThirdLove offers a massive variety of more than 78 bra sizes.

But it’s far from a friendly competition between the 2 brands. In an interview with Vogue last year, Victoria’s Secret CMO Ed Razek infamously said, “We’re nobody’s third love, we’re their first love.”

Is Victoria’s Secret finally out?

In response, ThirdLove published an open letter in The New York Times that positioned ThirdLove as an “antithesis” of Vicky S and insisted that “we may not have been a woman’s first love, but we will be her last.”

Women across the world expressed support for ThirdLove’s inclusivity, and Victoria’s revenues continue to decline as competitors including ThirdLove, Spanx, and True&Co move into the market.

ThirdLove, on the other hand, has all the support it needs to continue growing: The company plans to expand into retail, international markets, and new product categories such as swimwear.

» Bras need support, too

Con artist scams Alabama town out of millions with fake business incubator

Kyle Sandler, an alleged one-time Google executive who got rich in the big city, rode into the 30k-person town of Opelika, Alabama, in 2013 with his family and big plans, the AP News reports. 

So, when Sandler decided to open a business incubator called the Round House in 2014, the recession-addled townspeople were all ears.

Problem is, Sandler wasn’t a wealthy ex-Google employee, he was a serial con man. By the time he was done, he had raked in over $1.9m from more than 50 Opelika investors.

He took everyone for a ride

“I thought he had a good idea,” explained Mayor Gary Fuller. 

So did everyone else in Opelika — even the town’s resident tech celebrity, John McAfee (of McAfee computer security) who announced his 2016 presidential campaign at Sandler’s Round House with Sandler as his campaign adviser.

Sandler also gained national recognition for partnering with an Opelika teenager, who had an idea for a new kind of vending machine that was said to be worth “millions” (it wasn’t — Sandler lied about that too).

In the end, he got his…

In 2016, Sandler closed Round House and skipped town with his family, saying the business was bone dry. But some of the investors later uncovered his made-up identity.

It turned out not to be Sandler’s first rodeo: He had arrests for theft, forgery and check fraud long before Opelika. Online reviews from his days as a wedding DJ in 2009 complained that Sandler pocketed deposits and then ghosted the event entirely — but through it all he never went to prison.

Finally, in 2018, Sandler was arrested in Texas, weeks after records show he and a young woman formed a startup media company. 

Sandler the startup swindler pleaded guilty to 2 federal charges of wire fraud and securities fraud, and could face up to 40 years in prison.

» But probably like 5
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