Saturday, 14 October 2017

The current threats

What’s threatening the consumers of Botswana at the moment?

One calls itself Questra or alternatively Atlantic Global Asset Management, which they say is the company that represents Questra. One of their local representatives posted some photos of himself doing his best to recruit people into the scheme and a message which included the suggestion that you should “invest as little as P1300.00 to buy an annual package of €90 that will yield 4-7% interest every week, payable to ur account on Fridays for the whole year”.

There’s your first clue. “4-7% interest every week”? Those numbers might not seem terribly high to you. Aren’t they similar to the interest rates offered by banks? Well, that’s true, but with a bank you might get that sort of return after a year. This guy says you can earn it “every week”. Let’s assume for a moment that this is true. I’ve done the maths. If you give them the minimum of P1,300 that they suggest and you then get a €90 package (about P1,080) that will earn 4% per week, after a year your P1,080 will have grown to P7,222, a total return of 569% per year. If you were luckier and you get the 7% they suggest, your money will have grown to P36,423, an annual return of 3,273%.

That’s impossible and I hope everyone realises that. If you don’t, ask yourself this. If it was possible, don’t you think the Bank of Botswana will be investing? And all the commercial banks, pension funds and professional investors as well? I think it’s safe to assume that if they’re not doing so, then neither should we.

Another clue is something you often see with pyramid and Ponzi schemes. They very rarely give any clue about how you will earn the profits they promise. They don’t mention stocks and shares, derivatives, futures or any other mysterious financial terminology that sounds impressive.

A final clue came later in this guy’s claim. He said that there are “No Joining fees, No monthly payments, You invest n see ur money making u money without lifting a finger.”

So you can earn over 3,000% interest in a year without even lifting a finger? This is such an obvious scam, no other clues are needed.

But there are nevertheless several other clues. They’re the warnings that have been issued by the authorities in Belgium, Italy, Slovakia, Austria, Liechtenstein, Poland, Spain and the UK. The Belgian Financial Services and Markets Authority said that Questra “clearly resembles that of a pyramid scheme or, at the very least, a Ponzi fraud."

There’s a final curiosity about Questra, or rather about the guy who was busily recruiting people. In 2010 the same person was trying to recruit people in to TVI Express, another pyramid scheme that collapsed leaving people poor. Then in 2015 he was again busy, this time recruiting people into the pyramid scheme selling Xtreme Fuel Treatment, a fake fuel efficiency enhancer. Clearly he’s a serial pyramid scheme recruiter.

Even busier than this guy are the hordes of Filipinos and their local recruits desperately trying to recruit people into AIM Global.

One of these recruiters posted that “We are looking for the next distributor that would like to start making P200 to P3,200 daily working just to share information about Aim Global business opportunity every day using your Mobile Phone?”, “JOIN US NOW and be the next Millionaire in your Country”.

Just like the evangelist selling Questra, at no point do the people desperately trying to seduce people into joining AIM Global say what the product that this scheme sells might be. They give no idea how you can earn that P3,200 every day. It must be magic.

In fact there is a product lurking behind AIM Global and it really does seem like a magical product. Their “C247” product can, so they claim, help with 100 different serious medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, cirrhosis, bone fracture, deafness, endometriosis, epilepsy, heart diseases, hypertension, low sperm count, “toxins in the body”, stroke, migraine and even cancer and “immunodeficiency”.

Any product that could do all these things truly would be magical. And just like all other magic tricks, it’s a deception, and an illegal one too. Sections 396-399 of the Penal Code specifically forbid anyone from advertising such claims. So it’s a criminal product that has not, despite what many of the people selling the scheme claim, been “approved” by either the Ministry or Health of the Botswana Bureau of Standards. A criminal product sold by liars running a pyramid scheme.

But Questra and AIM Global aren’t the only threats. World Ventures, a pyramid scheme selling holiday discounts, is still going strong despite authorities around the world warning people that it’s nothing more than a pyramid scheme. Whether they call themselves World Ventures, or their new name, Dream Trips, it doesn’t matter. Their own figures from the USA for 2015 show clearly that more than three-quarters of their American recruits made no money at all from the scheme. Not a single cent. Of the small proportion that did make any money, more than two thirds of all the income is earned by the 3.7% at the top of the pyramid.

In fact, the median income level, the best illustration of what the typical American World Ventures recruits earned in 2015, was a meagre P1,500 per year. And that’s just income. It takes no account of the money the recruits must spend on travel, their phone and internet bills and the alcohol they probably need to drink to drown their sorrows when they finally realise that all their hard work has done is to feed the people at the top of the pyramid.

There’s also the TLC scheme, “Total Life Changes”, that sell their miracle "Iaso Tea" that they claim can help you lose 2.5kg in weight in a week and can also “reduce stress, reduce the risk of cancer, prevent cardiovascular diseases”. It also “mitigates HIV”. “prevents high blood pressure” and protects against “poisoning”. The recruiters will also tell you that it’s possible to make money from TLC just by recruiting other people, just like any other pyramid scheme.

The lesson, as always, is simple. People desperate to recruit you into schemes like TLC, Questra, World Ventures or AIM Global are desperate to make money from you, not with you.

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