Why people fall for bogus schemes

Editor January 22, 2017 No Comments

Why people fall for bogus schemes

If a money-making opportunity looks too good to be true, it probably is. Tens of thousands of UAE residents have found this the hard way after losing their life savings in investment plans only to discover that these were outright Ponzi schemes. Yet such is the lure of easy money, that every few days many still get sucked into their swirling vortex of deceit.
Nearly 6,000 residents lost their money in Sunfeast Infotech, 4,000 in SpeakAsia, 1,500 in MMA Forex, 2,000 in Gold AE, 40 in Ferryland Tourism and more recently 5,000 in UT Markets and 7,000 in Exential Group.
That’s around 25,000 people duped out of roughly Dh2.5 billion in just a little over three years – Dh100,000 per person on an average. If a money-making opportunity looks too good to be true, it probably is. Tens of thousands of UAE residents have found this the hard way after losing their life savings in investment plans only to discover that these were outright Ponzi schemes. Yet such is the lure of easy money, that every few days many still get sucked into their swirling vortex of deceit.

If a money-making opportunity looks too good to be true, it probably is. Tens of thousands of UAE residents have found this the hard way after losing their life savings in investment plans only to discover that these were outright Ponzi schemes. Yet such is the lure of easy money, that every few days many still get sucked into their swirling vortex of deceit.
Nearly 6,000 residents lost their money in Sunfeast Infotech, 4,000 in SpeakAsia, 1,500 in MMA Forex, 2,000 in Gold AE, 40 in Ferryland Tourism and more recently 5,000 in UT Markets and 7,000 in Exential Group.
That’s around 25,000 people duped out of roughly Dh2.5 billion in just a little over three years – Dh100,000 per person on an average.
Tip of the iceberg

Mindboggling as it sounds, this could just be the tip of the iceberg, according to Gaurang Desai, Chief Executive Officer of the Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange (DGCX) owned by Dubai Government and regulated by the Emirates Securities and Commodities Authority (ESCA).
The derivatives marketing specialist reckons there could be 150 such fly-by-night companies in the UAE peddling get-rich quick schemes by offering annual returns of up to 120 per cent. .
Sam Instone, CEO of Dubai-based financial advisors AES International says the number could be as high as 1,000.
“A financial regulator recently told me they suspect there are more the 1000 boiler rooms (unlicensed financial people/firms), Some of these are large, legitimate looking businesses,” he said.
“The tough economic climate and the slump in savings and stocks make the perfect scenario for these thugs,” said another financial advisor.
However, like any other outwardly viable but untenable model, the Ponzi schemes look good till they last, which in most cases has rarely been beyond six years.
Sure enough, when they inevitably fall apart, they cause the equivalent of a financial apocalypse. A staggering 7,000 alone have been hit by the $300 million Exential scam.
Numbers tell half the story
But statistics are just numbers. They don’t quite show the fallout of a reckless investment and what victims go through in the aftermath of a Ponzi scam.
Understandably so they are unable to capture the plight of a Dubai father who works for a reputed airline but often doesn’t have money to buy food or this Jordanian mother in Sharjah who has been dumped by her husband and now fears losing the custody of her kids as she can’t afford to pay their school fees.
The airline staff invested $80,000 in Exential after taking a bank loan while the Jordanian mum sold her ancestral land to fork out $175,000.
“That’s all I had. My husband got so annoyed that he left me. My kids are on the verge of dropping out of school and my husband wants their custody saying I cannot look after them. My life has become a mess,” she said in a voice choked with emotion.
The airline staff said his entire salary goes towards paying off his loan. At times, I’ve no money for even food. I don’t want to cheat any bank or run away. I would rather go to jail but I dread to think about the fate of my school-going daughter should that happen,” he said.

A Dubai-based Syrian hairstylist who borrowed from relatives to open seven forex accounts of $25,000 each with the firm said he doesn’t know how to face them.” Then there are people like Elrina van Graan who’s unable to pursue the case as she’s based out of the country. “I live in South Africa and don’t know how to lodge a complaint,” she said sharing documents that show that Exential owes her over $35,000.
A majority of Exential victims are from the aviation industry but it’s people from the oil and gas sector who have taken the biggest hits –like this senior executive at an oil and gas company who reportedly has 728 accounts of $25,000 each.
Why investors fall for Ponzi schemes
So what is that causes perfectly-educated people to fall into the infallible trap of Ponzi schemes?
“Pramod Bothra, director, Evermore Global DMCC. puts it in one word – Greed. “Ponzi schemes feed on greed. People are so blinded by the seemingly incredible returns that they seldom pause to think how they could possibly earn 10-12 per cent monthly on their investments. No business offers that kind of money,” he said.
Stupidity also plays an important if not equal part. At Sunfeast Infotech, for instance, investors looking to make extra bucks from ‘outsourced projects’ were handed a flash drive with several pages of manuscript in PDF format which they were required to type into text format and submit within 25 days.
At the end of a 30-day cycle, they were paid Dh250 for the job. They had to pay a security deposit of Dh500 for each project. In theory, they got their initial investment in two months; any extra job after that was profit.
Enticed by big returns, thousands used to queue up at Sunfeast’s Oudh Mehta office during 2013 with many taking huge loans to procure hundreds of ‘projects’ at the same time.
When that was not enough, scores sold their jewellery and homes. One enterprising man even set up a temporary typing centre at his home in India where young students were hired to do the job.
Nobody bothered to find out how anyone could make a fortune out of typing a few sheets of paper. By the time the company was shut down by the Dubai Economic Department (DED) and its owners jailed for fraud, millions had been siphoned off.
Another company MMA Forex conned investors into believing they were dealing with a multi-national firm with a diversified portfolio that included an airline in Ras Al Khaimah. As it turned out, the whole thing was a sham. MMA Forex owner CEO, Malik Noureed Awan, was later arrested and sentenced to jail.
Company ran on WhatsApp
The UT Markets scam which happened around the same time as Exential is even more shocking. The company was based out of Bulgaria and managed its operations in the UAE entirely on WhatsApp.
Yet, nearly 4,000 UAE residents, largely cabin crew, gave away their hard-earned money to them without a second thought.
“They claimed they were investing our funds in foreign exchange through a trading software. At 13 per cent per month, the returns were too good to be true, and too good to be missed, recalls Indian expat A.K.
“I invested $10000 in January 2016. Encouraged by initial profits, I took a bank loan and pitched in with another $60,000 in July last year. Now it’s all stuck and I am saddled with a big loan,” said the 41-year-old, who also got his fingers burnt at Exential.
Like most victims, AK has resigned himself to fate after calls made to UT Markets’ Bulgaria office and their relationship managers remain unanswered and a letter from the country’s Financial Supervision Commission (FSC) showed the company was not licensed.
What you can do to avoid investment scams
Before you are able to spot the telltale signs of a Ponzi scheme, it’s important that you understand what the fraud is all about. Named after notorious US-scamster Charles Ponzi, the scheme functions by paying off new investors with money from old ones.
“If anyone is considering investing in a scheme that they’ve been advised – or even promised – will give them very high returns — it’s probably best to avoid it because it may well be a scam,” warns Sam Instone, CEO, AES International.
If you want advise about your finances, you should only take it from a qualified, regulated professional rather than someone who cold calls you,” he says.
“Prevention is better than cure,” says Gaurang Desai, CEO, Dubai Gold & Commodities Exchange (DGCX). Investors should go through registered intermediaries and make sure that the company they are dealing with is registered with exchange houses like DGCX which is regulated by federal authorities,” he says.
Instone said his advice to investors would be to buy Andrew Hallam’s book ‘The Global Expatriate’s Guide to Investing’ and choose how to invest from there. It has a list of all the best investment venues for a range of different nationalities and its wisdom can massively positively impact the investment outcomes people experience. If people don’t want or don’t have time to read it – they can find a fee-based independent financial planner who should tell them this. And yes, make sure the businesses is directly licensed. Don’t sign any contract without reading it – and keep on checking things!
Verifying the credentials of promoters can save you a lot of time, money and heartache,” says Pramod Bothra, director, Evermore Global DMCC.

by Mazhar Farooqui Editor Xpress.

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