clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

How 'half-billion dollar man' Jesse Willms scammed his way to internet success

New, 5 comments
Jesse Willms
Jesse Willms

Circa 2011, Jesse Willms was no stranger to the high life. As the owner of Just Think Media, he was known to fly from his home in Edmonton, Alberta to Las Vegas for weekends of lavish parties and heavy spending. It made sense — his company had made more than $100 million in revenue by 2009. Thing is, Willms had earned his fortune in, according to The Atlantic, perhaps the largest, craftiest operation the US Federal Trade Commission had ever seen, defrauding unsuspecting online customers of about $467 million in so-called "risk-free" product schemes.

Willms was a veritable marketing genius, writes The Atlantic, having gotten a taste for e-commerce while in high school by selling ill-gotten copies of Microsoft software. He earned his first fortune in the process, but tangling with Microsoft meant he lost it just as quickly. Nevertheless, he soon pivoted into selling scam diet products many net natives have learned to ignore, including those dubious acai-based products that promise to prevent aging. By slapping false endorsements from celebrities like Oprah onto his websites and crafting Byzantine payment structures, he got thousands of customers to hand over their money in droves. Even though the FTC eventually managed to shut this venture down, Willms is still active to this day. The story is a testament to the web's Wild West nature, and how difficult it still is to regulate it. Read the full piece at The Atlantic.