National 14.9.2016 04:20 pm

Don’t fall for Ponzi and pyramid schemes

Picture: Thinkstock

Picture: Thinkstock

The South African Banking Risk Information Centre’s CEO warns that if an offer is too good to be true, it probably is.

Money schemes that offer unusually high interest rates or returns should be treated with the greatest of suspicion, warns the South African Banking Risk Information Centre (SABRIC).

In a statement, the centre said consumers needed to understand the associated risks and that the probability of actually getting rich this way is very low to none.

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CEO of SABRIC Kalyani Pillay said: “It is important for consumers to educate themselves on how to identify risky and illegal schemes upfront. While banks do warn their clients when they detect such schemes, promoters are deploying more clandestine approaches to avoid detection by banks.”

Schemes that are prevalent in SA currently generally meet the criteria of either traditional Ponzi or pyramid schemes, which have common traits, in that yields are paid to early investors from money invested by investors who join the scheme later. At some point when there are more existing investors than new investors, the scheme collapses, and all moneys invested could be lost.

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Tips to spot a Ponzi scheme:

  • The promoter promises high returns, which could not be achieved through normal conventional investment opportunities within a short period.
  • Often high returns are paid initially, and then investors are lured into investing even more money.
  • They often promise guaranteed returns – no return is ever guaranteed, as all investments carry some risk.
  • Promoters are usually quite secretive about the actual business model.
  • The promoter becomes unavailable and returns dry up.
  • Usually the scheme collapses soon thereafter.

Tips to spot a pyramid scheme:

  • Promoter promise high returns over a short period, and your returns increase with the number of people that you recruit to the scheme.
  • A fee or initial investment is required to participate in the scheme.
  • Participants are asked to recruit more investors and rewarded for bringing them into the scheme.
  • The scheme has multiple levels of members, all collecting commission on a single transaction.
  • There is no underpinning financial investment that generates growth.
  • Participants are sometimes taught how to circumvent detection methods.
  • They are often guised as stokvels and may even use virtual currencies like bitcoins to side step the formal banking sector, where they could be detected.

SABRIC further urges consumers not to be tricked into or allow themselves to be pressurised into making investments through financial advisors that are not registered with the Financial Services Board. Check that the financial advisor has a good track record and is in fact registered upfront so that you know that there is oversight and recourse should you fall victim to an illegal scheme.

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“If the offer is too good to be true, it probably is,” warns Pillay.

Caxton News Service

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