Friday, 25 May 2012


I’m not the only one who simply doesn’t get it, who doesn’t understand why people fall for scams. Other people are also mystified.

At a recent event in Francistown the Commissioner of Police, Thebeyame Tsimako, is quoted as saying:
“I just do not understand if Batswana are slow to learn or they just do not want to learn that con-artists exist and they are there to rip them off of their hard earned cash and property”.
He went on to say that:
“Drama Programmes like Itshireletse on BTV are very informative as they always warn people against such cases, but it seems that some of the people just watch these programmes for entertainment and do not want to get the message.”
He has a point. Despite the educational efforts of the Police Service, banks and organizations like Consumer Watchdog people continue to fall for scams and con-artists.

Part of this is simply human nature. We’re all, to varying degrees, greedy and lazy. If someone, often a total stranger, approaches us with a way of making a quick buck without actually doing any work we fall for it. We want something for nothing. The trouble is that no matter how tempting this might be, it doesn’t make it true. What’s worse is these schemes DON’T actually involve us doing nothing to earn these wonderful rewards. Instead the thing they want us to do is hand over money, sometimes large quantities of it.

I confess that it keeps on surprising me that we are approached by people for advice about these issues. I can only assume that everyone who comes to us is a new victim, or hopefully just a potential victim. I can’t imagine that anyone who’s read about the scams and cons we’ve reported in Mmegi and on our blog and Facebook group can then fall for them. Doesn’t a distant memory of reading about something similar emerge when they receive that email, SMS or invitation from a gullible friend?

We were asked recently about a so-called “investment scheme” called Felmina Alliance. A reader had received an email out of the blue suggesting that she visit their web site and extolling the virtues of their scheme. The web site makes it clear that they really are offering some remarkable results. For instance they say that: “interest of 1.6% per business day is paid on all account principals from $5,000.00 and above.” An interest rate of 1.6% doesn’t sound much but that’s EVERY DAY. If this is true and you take their option of reinvesting the first day’s interest ($80) back into your “investment” the interested is “compounded”. The second day’s interest is then not based on $5,000 but $5,080 so the interest is bigger, $81, then $82 and so on. After just a month, if this is true, your daily interest will be $127 and your total “investment” will have increased to over $8,000. If this is true after 90 days you’ll have a pot of nearly $21,000. After the minimum investment period of 180 days you’ll have accumulated $87.000.

If it’s true.

Of course this ISN’T true. It’s all a lie, carefully crafted to part you from that initial $5,000.

Did I mention that at no point does this scheme explain how it might earn this sort of money and guarantee a fixed interest rate. In turbulent economic times how can any legitimate scheme offer this? Did I also mention that this company is registered in Panama and has directors who run a range of other such schemes?

It’s no surprise that all over the web there are posts from people who claim to be getting a return from Felmina Alliance. I found a site that has posts from people reporting that they invested the minimum amount of $100 and are getting a dollar back here, two dollars there. Of course this might all be true but even if it is they’re forgetting something. Felmina Alliance still has their $100. That’s the nature of a Ponzi scheme. All those $100 investments are used to pay the rewards of earlier investors who want a dollar here, two dollars there. If the organizers just pay out 50 $1 payments from each $100 investment they still have $50 to spend on booze and floozies. If only 1 in 10 of the “investors” posts a comment on the internet and only 1 in 10 of them attract one more customer the scammers are making money.

The saddest thing for me is not just that people are losing money from this sort of scheme, it’s that there are willing victims who are convinced it’s working. Felmina Alliance give contact details of people here in Botswana who are their local representatives. I contacted one and he couldn’t explain how the scheme works either. All he could do was direct me to other people, presumably more closely connected with the scheme, who offered a variety of incredibly vague explanations about how the scheme made money. Nothing specific, nothing detailed, nothing concrete. No genuine evidence at all that it works. Presumably because it doesn’t?

The thing that saddened me was the emotional commitment I could sense from this local representative. I made it perfectly clear what I thought of these “High Yield Investment Plans”, that they promise a great deal but without any actual evidence or foundation and sent him evidence to support this but he stills seems just as committed. It’s sad because there will, one day, come a point when he realizes he’s been wasting his time and money. He reminded me of the people I’ve met in the past who are members of a religious cult like the Scientologists. They construct a brick wall of self-justification to protect their self-confidence.

Curiously, despite being one of their national representatives, he has only been an investor with them for a matter weeks. How easy is it to earn such a role?

Perhaps this is a good lesson for us all about how easy it is to fall for a scam and then to keep convincing yourself that you couldn’t have been that silly? The real lesson is constant, unceasing and vigilant skepticism. It’s either that or disappointment, depression and debt.

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