Pyramid ‘sou sou’ schemes exploding  in popularity

Lisa is a 25-year-old nail technician employed in Maraval.

Four weeks ago she was invited to invest $50 with the promise that she would get $14,400—an investment with just a four-week duration. The initial sum was small and the promise to get back thousands of dollars was attractive, so she decided to join.

She was recruited by a friend on Facebook. Lisa was then added to a group called “The Gifting” on the communications app Telegram.

According to the app, the group was created on October 31, and up to yesterday morning had 37 members.

The first message looked like this:

A LITTLE GOES A LONG WAY

No time limit but it could be done in 4 weeks

Week 0: Invest $50

Week 1: Receive $400

Gift $200 (to proceed to week 2)

Take home $200

Week 2: Receive $1,600

Gift $600 (to proceed to week 3)

Take home $1,000

Week 3: Receive $4,800

Gift $1,800 (to proceed to week 4)

Take home $3,000

Week 4: Take home $14,400

•You would be paying one person for the next four weeks.

•You would be receiving payments from eight different people.

• The more people you bring would dictate how fast your payouts would be

• Strongly advise that you bring people that you know/trust

• There are no Admins/Admin fees. Only kind hearted people who helps out the process.

Another message followed:

Please note:

Boards will be updated every few hours not each and every time someone joins the group. With that being said! Exercise some patience n wait for updates. It’s a few people helping and we are all here to make this work! And I am not like the others ! There are no admins either . If you can’t exercise patience I’ll gladly sell your spot and also remove you from the group! Again bear with me because I am working for the betterment of all of you.

A third message read:

Guys I’m sorry I forgot to mention the persons you invite also have to indicate that they want to fill a spot on the board.

The board began with one name, then spread to two, then four, then 16 and then 32 (See Figure 1).”

A board is the network of participants in the financial scheme.

According to the chat history on Telegram, which the Sunday Express has been monitoring for the past two weeks, people join weekly, while others exit. The administrator’s initials are SF. According to information posted on the chat, by November 1, she was running seven boards at the time.

When one person requested their money, she responded: “So if people want their money they will have to work n step up. Same way I did. And nobody can go under your name because you are not a core member…u joined under someone. Only when this board is filled and it splits then you become a core member and people to infer your name. But u can fill this board so things can move along faster.”

On November 6, the board was split and money was disbursed. The names and numbers of people who received money were posted on the chat. From then on, those who received money started their own boards and the sums increased.

Lisa, after she collected her hand in what the admin referred to as a sou sou, exited the chat.

Boards galore

According to an informal survey over the past three weeks, the Sunday Express is able to point to 500 similar schemes, based on their social media accounts, which have popped up in the Port of Spain area, especially closer to the Christmas season. (See images).

And, given the job losses and the income reductions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, people are willing to join.

Hema (not her real name) works at a Government office and started a group called “Dream Accomplishers”. She recruited a few public servants to build her circle with $200 a person, with the expectation that those recruited will get $30,000.

One of the people Hema recruited, Mala, told the Sunday Express that she’s doubtful she will get the money, but her husband is very ­interested in getting the money.

Mala told the Sunday Express that one businessman invested $90,000 after he was recruited by a radio ­personality.

Julie (not her real name), who works as a waitress in a restaurant in Port of Spain, told the Sunday Express, it was the raid on the Drugs Sou Sou (DSS) in La Horquetta on September 22 that led to all these schemes.

“I invested my money with Prezzie (DSS founder Kerron Clarke), and I was happy. A lot of people were able to benefit. We got back our investment. For us poor people, it made sense. We couldn’t work and it was an opportunity for us,” said Julie, explaining that some of the people who invested in DSS bought cars, while others managed to just put food on the table for the past few months.

She said she even joined several other schemes and was recruiting people. (See images)

When the Sunday Express pointed out that what she was engaging in was a pyramid scheme, Julie answered: “What do you have to lose? It’s not a lot of money and I am proof you can get back your investment.

“You don’t know how hard it is for people out there,” she said.

At last week’s police briefing, Commissioner of Police, Gary Griffith, when he referred to the DSS investigation, said there is a difference between a sou sou and a pyramid scheme.

“This (DSS) is not a sou sou. Putting in $10,000 to get $50,000, without putting in $50,000, is not a sou sou. The public is being misled by devious people. This is not a sou sou, it is a pyramid scheme... and it will collapse,” he said.

How can you recognise a

pyramid scheme?

They require persons to join groups and make an initial contribution of money, with the promise of a significant pay-out or “return” on their contribution at a later date.

They rely on the recruitment of new members in order to ensure high pay-outs—this is very different from “sou sou ”arrangements, for example, which do not require recruitment of new members and are not profit-making ventures.

Early contributors to the scheme are paid from the money contributed by newer members. Existing members are encouraged to recruit new persons so that they can move to a different “level” or “circle” which promises higher returns on their contribution. The overall intention is to get to the “highest level” or to the top of the pyramid which will produce the highest payouts, while the newest members, those at the bottom of the pyramid, receive the lowest returns on their contributions. When fewer or no new members join the scheme, it collapses and disappears along with the payment platform and the money that was “invested”.

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