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Ponzi scheme: No free meal in Freetown

Jack Bolgna et al wrote in their book titled “Corporate Crime Investigations” that all people in general are capable of committing an action of fraud. It is believed that doing something wrong or right is in the nature of all people. Thus, the obsession to live a flamboyant life makes many youths involve in scam, and Ponzi schemes.

These swindlers work on the slippery information carelessly released by the family members, friends or well-wishers unknowingly. Having obtained the needed information, they use fictitious stories to hoodwink their victims.

Lately, my auntie was defrauded of N150,000 by somebody who raised a false alarm that I was arrested in Canada, and that they needed money to secure my bail. The scammer cloned my voice and pretended that I was in distress, therefore I needed urgent succour to release me from the security entanglement. The most unfortunate thing was that my auntie did not reach out to me through my known mobile number to verify the authenticity of the claim. It was after the deed was done that, I received a call from her son that somebody said I was arrested and in need of financial help to liberate me from the security dragnet.

The apparent lesson here is that an attempt must be made to reach out to the supposed person in trouble prior to parting with one’s money, knowing that the scammers are always in hurry to consummate the deal.

Observably, a series of messages are being sent to hoodwink people to part with their hard-earned money. Many innocent people were tricked to invest their money in an unspecified business to make fabulous gains in a week or two weeks. What is the justification for an interest of 50 percent or 100 percent in a month when trading or portfolio investment is not consummated? Is there any rationale for multi-level marketing in giving out soft loans when there is no exchange of goods and services? Where is the interest rate coming from? Who bears the brunt and liability of the interest given to participants? These are questions begging for rational and positive answers.

The people must know that no genuine businessman will put his capital in a business where a solid agreement does not evolve. The logic behind all the Ponzi scheme is against all common sense in business and financial realms. I wonder which legitimate business can give one a 100 percent interest on an investment in a week. Nowhere is that possible in this world except in the imaginary world of Ponzi. That is why the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), commercial banks and media outfits have warned Nigerians not to patronize Ponzi schemes masquerading and reincarnating in different forms; they are nothing but flukes. There is a saying that even in Freetown nothing is free. Unfortunately, thousands of Nigerians turn deaf ears and refuse to hearken to this timely warning.

Some years back, when MMM Global (a Ponzi scheme launched in 2011 by Sergei Mavrodi, with subsidiaries in up to 110 countries) froze its account in December 2016 to early January 2017 based on the available information on its website then, participants’ effusive lacrimation rented the air and went viral on internet about their possible loss, which is unquantifiable. Its sudden reappearance in January 2017, with a tinge of hope was finally dashed when the promoters technically dialogue with their legs and vanished into thin air.

Each participant licks and nurtures the pain of their greedy involvement and investment personally. Another interesting evergreen story of fraud was the “Swiss Gold” which was introduced to my wife. I warned her not to be part of the scam. A family friend called to prevail on me to allow her to be part of the unprecedented financial liberation which I flatly declined.

Just three months after, fighting ensued in the WhatsApp group over the non-remittance of the money contributed by the Swiss Gold group members. Millions of naira were carted away. The agric crowdfunding companies’ revolution is another swindling cartel which many Nigerians will not forget in a hurry. The Yoruba adage “Eni tin nwa ifa nwa ofo”, meaning “a person who is seeking for free gifts is seeking for loss” aptly described the scenario.

Tricking or defrauding people, which is otherwise known as “advance fee fraud” is a smart way of convincing people to part with or invest their money with the understanding of getting a substantial amount in return for their initial capital deposit. The trick is as old as the human race. This is the fourth incarnation of this Ponzi scam masquerading as financial investment in the recent past, based on my own little calculation.

Few years back they were called wonder banks and thousands of Nigerians were summarily duped of their hard-earned money. The story of the Umana Umana phenomenon is still fresh in our memory. One of the earliest recorded stories about fraud narrated by Russel was said to have taken place in Sydney in the 1840s.

The aptly-named and wealthy Mr. Monies who provided funds to one Mick Bell was described as “one of the most cool, impudent vagabonds in Sydney”, to finance the smuggling of a mythical 20,000 pounds worth of goods out of the colony on a phantom ship in Port-Hacking. Mr. Monies gave Bell money and clothes on account and then, realizing that the scheme was fraudulent, reported the matter to the police. Bell was convicted and sentenced to two months’ imprisonment.

Read also: Why Nigerians keep falling victim of Ponzi scheme – experts

Similarly, Biodun Jeyifo painted a graphical illustration of fraud in his article titled “The 419 Chronicles and the Global Capital Pool: Amos Tutuola Visionary Critique (1), published in The Guardian of Sunday, March 8, 2009. He said that by “419 Chronicles” he meant nothing more than the outlandish stories contained in the letters often sent by 419 conman and fraudsters to millions of people via the internet seeking to entice the unwary into a business deal that promises to bring them millions of dollars. Anyone who uses the internet frequently is sure to have received scores of these 419 letters with their tall, incredible tales. For the average human adult with even a minimal level of education, it is baffling why anyone could possibly fall for these tales.

“They are not only transparently unbelievable, they are also often written in bizarre constructions that defy logic, punctuation, linguistic propriety and grammatical competence. If it is very surprising that any adult could fall for a fraud that is so transparently unbelievable, it is no less surprising that on the whole, the 419-internet scam is so successful that it ought to be called an “industry”, an underground shadow industry.

The fraudster cartel is a global phenomenon and multinational. They are everywhere and interconnected, they share information, and they operate from different countries of the world. Like Biodun, Kuenzler painstakingly portrayed the ruse of conman in his essay that, “the fraudsters present a skilled fabric of lies relating to current political or economic events, integrating technical terms of global capitalism. They use the infrastructure of global capitalism for various purposes: procuring information including email addresses from the internet, clouding the origin of a message by using different internet servers and routing phone calls, as well as creating an alleged credibility by linking to trustworthy internet sources as newspaper articles. Furthermore, they use hardware (computer, scanner) and software to counterfeit documents or create fictitious documents, inspiring confidence”.

Phishing text is their antics, (that is the malicious act of keeping a false website or sending a false e-mail with the intent of masquerading as a trustworthy entity in order to acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details). Thus, the internet mailbox is saturated with scam of unknown elements soliciting for your friendship in order to dupe you.

Most victims of this scam are dubious people looking for cheap money, which does not exist anywhere. I have had cases of calls from unknown sources claiming to have met me physically, thereby introducing profitable business through the phone discussion. Some claim to be spiritualist (faith merchant) by initiating prayer and start soothsaying all sorts of things to convince their catch to hook the bait. A lot of people have been swindled of their money, most of them cannot report to security agencies because of lack of transparency in the deal.

Nigerians should be wary that it is very easy to use computer networks and the internet to commit fraud and crime because the internet is borderless and most of its users hide under a cloak of anonymity and dark web to commit crime. Globally, people consummate a lot of genuine and transparent businesses and deals without contact with their business associates.

This is the beauty and benefits of globalization and automation. It brings the world to the tips of our fingers, and at the slightest stroke the deed is done. Nigerians must wake up to the reality that as the internet serves as an excellent tool for investors, allowing them to easily and inexpensively research investment opportunities, it is equally an excellent tool for fraudsters. If you want to invest wisely and steer clear of frauds, you must get the facts cross-checked from the genuine source most especially financial experts.

Bello, a social commentator, writes from Canada