It was all about the money. All about the planes. All about the bottles of expensive champagne and sleek suits. All about an unattainable dream sold to a population trying to pry itself out of poverty and into a better life.
For close to two years, Crowd1, an online-based investment opportunity promised the key that would open the doors to a magical kingdom. Until it all came down, bringing with it the ambitions and dreams of Africa’s poor who had invested all their hard-earned money for a chance at this life.
Instead of greatness, investigations by BBC’s Africa Eye have revealed that investors have been left with nothing but pain and agony with some losing their life savings to a greatly marketed pyramid scheme in one of the world’s most elaborate frauds. The scheme appears to have made a fortune for a handful of European scammers, many of them Swedish, but it has left behind a trail of debt and poverty in countries, including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.
The BBC documentary by journalist Ayanda Charlie includes devastating testimony from a woman in South Africa who spent her entire life savings on Crowd1 in the belief that she was buying “shares” in a business that would pay out a “salary.” Impossible is nothing Yet, even with complaints from individuals who have lost more than money, little is done by governments whose ?nancial institutions can curtail the damage down by these online scams.
A few countries have put up warnings to their citizens against getting themselves entangled in such schemes. Fewer, like Burundi, have banned Crowd 1 from operating within their jurisdictions. But many more governments continue to look on as their citizens get carried away by the faux glitz and glamour that accompanies these schemes. For Regina’s mother, the possibilities of a better life seemed impossible.
And all she wanted to achieve was within reach. “Yes they were recruiting us using short videos of people getting money and driving Ford Rangers and BMWs and Mercedes saying that this could be us in the next six months,” Rosinah Thahane says. “Those clips are what got me.” Her daughter, Regina, says many people thought his was true because they could see the money in their phones. But the virtual money was just part of the ruse. Like any proper pyramid scheme, an investor had to ?rst part with quite a large sum of money.
Of course, the more you put in initially, the better your chances at a better life. For Regina’s mother, the price for a better life, a life of the Ford Rangers, BMWs and the Mercedes Benz cars she had seen in the short recruitment videos was Sh30000, a huge sum for a struggling mother. What she was promised for this investment was a certain shareholding that would yield payments to her every three months.
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