Editor's note: This five-part investigation into entrepreneur Max Polyakov represents 18 months of open-source reporting and is a follow-up to a February 2020 investigation. Readers might ask why Snopes devoted so much time and effort to study the business practices of a relatively obscure aerospace and IT entrepreneur. However, Snopes has a years-long history of rooting out and debunking internet scams, and this one is big. Simply put, Polyakov sits atop a massive, internationally significant digital empire that incentivizes overtly deceptive advertising, and that allows him and his associates to profit in multiple ways from the scams pushed by that deception. By uncovering the mechanics of this ecosystem in forensic detail, Snopes hopes to highlight the technical, financial, and legal schemes required both to profit from internet scams and — perhaps — to stop their proliferation. To enhance the reader's experience, we have also removed commercial advertisements in this series. If you'd like to support such investigations in the future, we'd love your help.
— Doreen Marchionni, executive editor/managing editor, Snopes.com
About This Series
Max Polyakov is a British-Ukrainian IT entrepreneur who co-founded, and until recently majority-owned, the Texas-based rocket company and U.S. government contractor Firefly Aerospace. Like so many in technology whose fortunes are tied to early internet marketing and e-commerce, Polyakov has for nearly a decade cast himself as a Ukrainian version of Elon Musk — a "visionary" whose vast wealth benefits the whole of humanity, in part because it goes toward launching his rockets into space.
... Snopes exposes how Polyakov, via a financial services company named Maxpay, is the ultimate beneficiary of an international scheme that obscures his financial interest in a large collection of predatory internet grifts.
Snopes first reported on Polyakov in a February 2020 investigation that tied his venture capital firm Noosphere Ventures to a series of predatory dating websites employing fake profiles to compel people to give up their credit card information and trap them in a recurring subscription plan. This present series, which Snopes began reporting out full-time in April 2021, was originally pitched as a quick follow-up to see what, if anything, happened with those websites.
The scope of this project has since expanded considerably. Layers upon layers of research, Snopes found, reveal the massive scale of Polyakov's financial interest in fraudulent or deceptive businesses. Employing often comically complex corporate structures involving myriad shell companies, Polyakov has attempted, rather successfully, to hide — or at least create plausible deniability regarding — the centrality of overt fraud to his entrepreneurial endeavors. This 18-month investigation puts an end to such fables, and it does so with receipts.
What this series reveals is a global network of shell companies tied to Polyakov or his associates that work in concert to enroll people into recurring credit card subscriptions to deceptive or effectively fake services. This network, we demonstrate, is built to shield those who profit from it most from liability. The broad outline of the scheme goes like this: A Polyakov-linked affiliate marketing company pays third parties to push scams that are, in many cases, also owned by Polyakov or his associates. Payments for these scams are then processed by a final Polyakov company, Maxpay, which makes money on a per-transaction basis.
In this series, Snopes reconstructs this grift empire in forensic detail, documenting the scheme and the people who profit from it as money flows from this network to, among other destinations, a Scottish aerospace company, Skyrora Limited. Polyakov quietly became an investor in Skyrora after our last investigation.
Polyakov and Noosphere Ventures, in response to a list of questions we sent to them on Feb. 18, 2022, retained a crisis PR and brand reputation firm to communicate with Snopes. Our questions were never answered.
"Given the biased and incorrect conclusions based on whatever research you conducted," a spokesperson told Snopes on Sept. 26, 2022, "we do not intend to respond in a substantive way to the questions at the bottom of your email." Instead, they provided us with this statement:
The conclusions or references that Dr. Polyakov and his companies have made money through illegal or fraudulent practices are categorically false. Dr. Polyakov and his companies are not subject to any regulatory or law enforcement actions and Snopes has not identified any such violations. Dr. Polyakov and his companies are singularly focused on assisting in the war efforts in Ukraine and in keeping their numerous employees safe during this war.– Spokesperson for Noosphere