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Pyramid gifting

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Joe Mather - series producer | 18:25 UK time, Monday, 10 November 2008

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As the credit crunch tightens, many of us are looking for new ways to make money, but beware of pyramid gifting schemes. Watchdog uncovers one scheme which seems to be run by someone you might recognise. Lindi Mngaza was selected from 20,000 applicants to compete in one of TV's most successful business shows. The candidate in the last series of The Apprentice has a new business plan.

It isn't one Sir Alan Sugar would give his blessing to - not least, because it' illegal - but it could generate an awful lot of money. Not so much for all the people she persuades to invest, but certainly for Lindi herself.

Exclusive women's networking scheme
It appears that Watchdog has discovered her latest plan to make a fortune. An exclusive women's networking scheme which she intends to call 'Financial Freedom for women' Lindi claims it' a new scheme, but it' about to become all too familiar.

Lindi holds meetings every week, often at upmarket venues, and after a tip off, we bagged ourselves an invite to one of the first meetings just as she was trying to get the scheme off the ground. In the meeting, secretly filmed by Watchdog Lindi made clear how the scheme can prove to be a nice little earner.

"I started a meeting exactly like this about four years ago in Birmingham. I invested £1,000 into the scheme and it took me four weeks and I got back £8,000. From that I reinvested £3,000 and then I got back £24,000, then I reinvested six and got back £48,000."

The pyramid
With returns of 48 times her initial thousand-pound investment, it's no wonder she's keen to bring the same get-rich quick scheme to London. So, what kind of scheme can possibly make you so rich in such a short space of time? Lindi shows us a diagram to explain everything - 15 boxes in the shape of, what looks like, an upside-down pyramid.

Recruiting friends and family
Lindi says you can make eight times your initial investment but you'll only do that by moving through the levels on the diagram which means recruiting friends and family to join the scheme too. Each of them will put in up to £3,000 with the promise of up to £24,000 in return. The more people you introduce, the quicker you will see the return. In other words this is a classic pyramid gifting scam.

Here's why. One person sits at the top of the pyramid and the people below have to pass up their money to the person at the top - who is now rich. In theory this continues until everyone's rich. In practice though, they'll probably end up without a penny to rub together. Eventually you run out of people and the scheme collapses.

We ran a transcript of the meeting past Tony Northcott from the Trading Standards Institute. He said: "It is a pyramid, pure and simple. You have to recruit people to get more income to distribute it. There's no new money - someone is going to lose and lose a lot of money."

John Haig of University of Sussex has also done the maths and concludes that it isn't possible for everyone to become a winner, "It's completely impossible. You start off with one person who puts in £3,000. To get £24,000 then you've got to find eight other people who'll give them that money. At that stage you've got one winner and you've got eight losers. Now those eight losers can become winners but to do that they need eight people each, so you need 64 people who pay them their £3,000. So at this stage you've now got nine winners but 64 losers. In the long run about 86 per cent of the people in this scheme are going to be losers."

So it seems that the people who get in early, the people at the top of the chain could be OK, but if you're down at the bottom you have no chance.

The scheme is illegal
If it all sounds confusing, one thing is perfectly clear. Any kind of pyramid gifting scheme is now illegal under two acts of legislation. The Gambling Act 2005 and The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008. Lindi Mngaza ticks the boxes for breaching both.

Tony Northcott from the Trading Standards Institute says: "It's amazing people will do this, especially with the history of schemes in the early part of this century. People have lost thousands of pounds, I just urge them not to join and become another statistic, another somebody who has lost their life savings."

Pyramid gifting schemes first entered the UK in about 2000. They've devastated entire communities, most famously in the Isle of Wight and later Llanelli and because they rely on recruiting friends and family who inevitably lose thousands, entire families have been torn apart.

Susceptible times
But Lindi knows that in the current climate people are more susceptible, she says: "A credit crunch is an opportunity. Do you know what I mean, guys? You've got to think - there are more millionaires made in a bad economy then there are at any other time and then it's people that think oh my God I've got a credit crunch wardrobe, can I do anything?"

The truth is, there has never been a worse time to launch this sort of scheme. Few people can afford to lose thousands of pounds at the best of times, let alone when we're all feeling the pinch. Which is why Lindi's money-making plan needs to be nipped in the bud before too many people hand her their cash.

Lindi may have been in charge of her own business empire this time, but it's us that have the pleasure of saying:

"Lindi - you're fired!"

When Watchdog spoke to Lindi she insisted that she wasn't involved in a pyramid scheme and wasn't breaking the law. She said that no one is pressured into getting involved and that the groups were friends of friends who were socialising, investing and helping each other.

Watchdog update Monday 22 December 2008

In November we went undercover to two meetings of a group called 'Financial Freedom for Women'. It was run by former Apprentice contestant Lindi Mngaza, but it was actually a pyramid scheme. We showed how 86 per cent of people lose out under these schemes, and how pyramid schemes are now illegal under two pieces of legislation. We interviewed Lindi on the programme, who told us that she had not been involved in anything illegal.

Since then BBC Wales has uncovered a pyramid scheme which has gripped communities in South East Wales and there was rioting in Colombia after a pyramid scheme collapsed there leaving thousands out of pocket.

We asked Lindi whether she was still running the pyramid scheme but she would only say one thing: "No comment".

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    Just heard Nicky's interview with Lindi re: Paul Hiney's report and heard her comment about the experts being on Watchdog's side - nice libel job, love!

    What she is doing is nothing more than a version of Women Empowering Women, which is definitely a pyramid scheme and definitely illegal.

  • Comment number 2.

    [Personal details removed by Moderator]This is a disgrace in a time where value for money has never been so important.

  • Comment number 3.

    so if lindi was sitting in that public bar with all her friends...how long did she know that undercover bbc reporter for, at a guess id say not very long!

  • Comment number 4.

    I've recently been invited to join one of these under the guise of Domestic Gambling. I checked the legal act and all areas have been complied with, making this appear to be legal. Clearly, gambling by it's nature means there is a risk that I will lose my money, but no mention was made of this and like the case with Lindi on TV tonight I was told that there was NO risk to my money. Further internet searches highlighted the cases in IOW and Wales hence my not participating but how can they be stopped?

  • Comment number 5.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 6.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 7.

    I was left speechless by Lindi's reaction to all this. It's difficult to comprehend her arrogance about flagrantly breaking the law. It's a sad indictment of capitalism when people exploit a downturn to try to make some easy money. What would Sir Alan think indeed!

  • Comment number 8.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 9.

    Lindis attitude during the interview was deplorable,and I think that it was transparent that she had NOT had any Legal advice.
    The fact that she tried to "Attack" the BBC for "Wasting License Payers Money" was indicative of her Guilt. After all, the best form of defence is attack.

  • Comment number 10.

    This is rife in East Devon at the moment and I have just had a colleague who stupidly is getting involved in Somerset. When will people learn there are no quick ways to make oney?

  • Comment number 11.

    I understand that pyramid schemes are illegal, but tonights programme did not do any justice to the perfectly legal network marketing companies operating in th U.K. Tonights programme tarred us all with the same brush. For example one of these network marketing companies is a company called [Company details removed by Moderator] that also hold meetings in hotels across the U.K. and people that are attending the meetings are now going to think that they are an illegal company. It would have shown good judgement to have explained the difference between pyramid schemes and genuine network marketing companies.

  • Comment number 12.

    Based on Tony Northcott's view, will Trading Standards be pursuing a prosecution? I certainly expect them to...

  • Comment number 13.

    It's so clearly a pyramid scam. Within 30 secs of her describing it, anyone should have realised it's a scam.

    I hope they throw the book at her and that she gets jailed.

    [Personal details removed by Moderator]

  • Comment number 14.

    Great article. But please, it needs to be made clear that normal Network Marketing businesses (MLM's, Referral Marketing or Team Marketing) are NOT illegal pyramid schemes. There should be no fee levied to join, products are clearly being sold or recommended, and you only earn through your team when they are building successful businesses themselves and are also earning an income. Such businesses are regulated by the Direct Selling Association (DSA). Good Network Marketing businesses enable everyone to be successful and earn an income.

    At this time, it would be unfortunate if people were put off starting such a business themselves, especially as they can be a good way to supplement, or even replace, a current income. They are not 'get rich quick' schemes, but they can be a good way to a substantial income.

  • Comment number 15.

    This is something that is going on everywhere!
    I know that there are lots of people in Caldicot south Wales who are involved.
    Everyone who is involved thinks it's ok and again when i have asked them they say "no one will loose out, but some will have to wait longer for a payout"
    I just want someone to step in and end it before too many people get involved.
    Although they say it's just for women i know that men have been involved too. they just use a girls name and away they go.
    All the "winners" have to give so much money to a charity and this again is why pople involved think it's ok.
    I HATE IT!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 16.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 17.

    Lindi claimed that watchdog had turned her pyramid over thereby implying that if the point of the pyramid is at the bottom then the scheme did not constitute pyramid selling. This is either disingenuous or naive, since her claim could only be true if she was giving money away rather than receiving it. The upside down pyramid in business/organisational terms is when the person running the business or organisation sees themselves and their managers as enablers and supporters of those who do the actual work; they give rather than receive. I think she may know the words but not their meaning.

  • Comment number 18.

    I deplore the women's social networking scheme highlighted in your programme tonight. I joined a scheme in Darwen, Lancashire after being invited by my sister -because it sounded so easy and a win win situation. my husband was very sceptical and didnt want me to join, but I invested £100 and invited a friend of mine also to invest £100. we all lost our money. I felt embarrassed to have been so gullable and wish I had never asked my friend to hand over her cash too!!!

  • Comment number 19.

    I first heard about pyramid selling in early 1980's from my aunt, who asked if I was interested. I was in uni but even then I could work out what would happen to me. In Chinese we call it "a rats' club" because each person rope in many in order to make profit. However, there was goods or merchandise involved in pyramid selling; but what about pyramid "gifting" or "investing"? Why can't the participants see through it? Why are women more susceptible to these scams? Are we more stupid, gullible, greedy, or just weak in arithmetic and logic? I hope Lindi will stop doing what she does.

  • Comment number 20.

    I watched your program tonight and now have had mine and a freinds fears confirmed as we where sucked in by a freind(so called)to put a certain amount of money in a venture our freind called the gift. i put £2300 and my freind put 700 and we have not had a penny back and this was started in Birmingham and she brought it to Blackpool but seems to have stopped talking about it to us and we feel she has probably joined back in Birmingham.Is there anything we can do to get our money back?

  • Comment number 21.

    This is also going on in North Devon at the moment too and I know of people getting involved, with high hopes. It's a shame that people still go ahead and give their money to these schemes despite the constant warnings of these and similar scams. Unfortunately, people just can't seem to see passed the pound signs!

  • Comment number 22.

    "If it sounds too good to be true it probably is".

    Forgetting this principle makes ordinary people susceptible to scams like this. I hope the perpetrator(s )are prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

  • Comment number 23.

    Firstly I thought the bit about "experts on your side" was a bit juvenille. Secondly if as she asserts, she has done nothing wrong, then the company paperwork should all be pristine as well. Bring it on!

  • Comment number 24.

    Come on Watchdog, it's clearly illegal, so why not put your money where your mouth is (so to speak), do things properly, and take all your evidence to the police?

  • Comment number 25.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 26.

    What is the scale of this?
    How many people have lost money?
    Have you had people phone in about losing money

  • Comment number 27.

    I have been approached to join a similar scheme by a friend, she insists it will work and is putting in a lot of money up front, i am now even more concerned that she will loose it all, how can this be stopped?

  • Comment number 28.

    Just a heads up regarding the comment (10)about Devon as i recently discovered a family member was trying to borrow money to join a scheme in Torquay that was holding meetings in a local hairdressing salon of all places. I think targeting elderly wealthy patrons of such places is despicable and i sincerely hope that the authorities intervene before too many Torquay residents lose their savings.

  • Comment number 29.

    Congratulations to Watchdog for exposing this devious scheme! Let's hope that others like it also get exposed. In my view such schemes are tantamount to extortion even if the initial "victims" are willing because no services or goods are provided, only the idea to get another 8 greedy people involved. If there is no risk, why does she not ask for £10000? Could it be be that she has realised that any more than £3000 will make her so-called investors think and find out that they are being fleeced, that there is no empowering going on; rather, that it is a case of Women Fleecing Women.

  • Comment number 30.

    I liked the way Lindi tried to suggest that having her on the show was a waste of licence payers money. If she felt that strongly she should not have appeared and just sent a written statement. She clearly could not resist the chance to be on the TV and raise her profile. The girl seems to have no shame.

  • Comment number 31.

    I became involved in 'Women Empowering Women' in Birmingham about 4yrs ago and lost £1,500 of hard-earned money. I saw people making 1,000's at the expense of others and friendships falling apart because people are so desperate to recruit anyone they can to push them to the top of the pyramid and their payout! When I look back the frenzied meetings were pathetic and I would never, never consider doing anything like this again. Lindi knows it's a shortlived scam and it's shameful to appear on TV and say she is doing nothing wrong.

  • Comment number 32.

    The scheme is clearly a Pyramid and as such illegal and the BBC did well to high-light it but the interview by Nicky Campbell of Lindi was, to say the least, inept. He failed to get across the flaws in her scheme, allowed her to make rambling statements without come-back and generally fluffed it. You need an interviewer with a bit more presence and authority.

  • Comment number 33.

    At present this type of scheme is so rife in the south wales area especially around caldicot and surrounding villages.People who are actually receiving their so called winnings are not only putting money back in but actually lending or what they call sponsering others so that the momentum can keep on going ,if the ones that they have sponsered in turn receive their winnings they then charge them an extra £1000 for the sponsership.Even under 16' have started to join this scheme.

  • Comment number 34.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 35.

    This scam is rife in Somerset, even people working in the local banks are getting involved. I have been to a meeting and could'nt believe that there was about 70 people in a house all being conned by the talk of big money. I have tried warning friends but they dont listen saying that this scheme is different.IT IS THE SAME SCHEME.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 37.

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  • Comment number 38.

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  • Comment number 39.

    To those people who say these schemes are legal. THEY ARE NOT. They are a pyramid scheme under another name. As for being approved by "barristers", I doubt it. Don't you mean "Barista", IE, a person who serves coffee. There is a telling phrase in comment#36 "you have to work at it,have meetings and gain the interest of new people". That's the problem, because you have to recruit new people all the time to get more money you are soon going to run out of these new people. You must realise that no "new" money is being created by some sort of magic money machine. All you are doing is moving it around the group. And finally just remember this:- "Put 100 people in a room with £10 each and the only way you end up with no one losing money is to all leave with £10 each."

  • Comment number 40.

    I strongly agree with the comment below posted previously. There are many legal british PLC companies marketing products via network marketing and a statement should be made to differentiate between legal network marketing and illegal pyramid schemes.

    I understand that pyramid schemes are illegal, but tonights programme did not do any justice to the perfectly legal network marketing companies operating in th U.K. Tonights programme tarred us all with the same brush. For example one of these network marketing companies is a company called [Company name removed by Moderator] that also hold meetings in hotels across the U.K. and people that are attending the meetings are now going to think that they are an illegal company. It would have shown good judgement to have explained the difference between pyramid schemes and genuine network marketing companies.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 42.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 43.

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  • Comment number 44.

    This scheme, under a different name, is rife in the south west. I went to a meeting with at least 70 people. The emphisis was that this scheme is legal and all the others are not. The reasons given were that as meetings were held in private houses and as gambling in your own home is not agaist the law, its ok. Secondly, when you get a payout you can get around the gaming laws by giving some to charity and a few hundred pounds for the others on your pyramid to 'play a game of chance'. I did not join the scheme. I found the sight of very young girls who had taken out bank loans and perma-tanned, teethwhitened, designer clad women boasting about how you cannot lose, all very disturbing.

  • Comment number 45.

    There is a similar scheme running in Dorset that goes by the name Key to a Fortune and they call it a chart because they say it is not a pyramid scheme. The 8 people on the bottom row of the chart have to pay the one at the top £3000 each. The chart then splits in 2 and so it goes on. Meetings are held in private houses and people are told it is perfectly legal because it is domestic gambling not a pyramid. This is because to receive your £24000 you have to go to someone's private house and answer 4 simple questions with the aid of a friend. Of the £24000, £600 goes to a charity of your choice, £100 is used to buy refreshments and £300 goes into a game played on the night. This involves money being put into boxes and if you choose the right key to open a box containing the money then you keep it. This is what they say makes the scheme legal and they apparently have letters from a barrister to say so. How does playing this game alter the fact that it is basically an unlawful chain gift scheme? Can anyone throw any light on this as I cannot see the connection.

  • Comment number 46.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 47.

    Thank goodness I watched Watchdog I had been to a meeting called G and T in Devon and had decided to join then I saw watchdog which confirmed my suspicions.!!! It seems to be very active in the horseownership area!! Caldicott is very horse ownership friendly.

  • Comment number 48.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 49.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 50.

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  • Comment number 51.

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  • Comment number 52.

    The best way to inform yourself about this sort of thing is via the site of Dr Jon Taylor, of the American consumer protection organisation Consumer Advice Institute.

    Jon deliberately 'tested' an american MLM giving himself one year.....he worked himself up to the top 1% of distributors, was still losing money, and left when he nearly lost his wife as well due to the disruption in their life caused by the constant MLM 'work'

    His site is [Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator]

    I suggest you "pass this on to 5 others" etc so it becomes a "chain of truth"

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 54.

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  • Comment number 55.

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  • Comment number 56.

    Thank you watchdog, i have been invited to many of these charts running in the southwales town of caldicot, I am so glad i did not part with my 3k.
    Its all around this area also, if its illegal why have the police done nothing ?

    If not the police then why not trading standards, the people tat run these charts need to be stopped and everyone involved need to know the full risk and thats its not legal as they keep quoting documentation from barristers in bristol.

    keep up the excellent work in exposing these awful scams.

  • Comment number 57.

    If you are interested in any of the Multi-Level-Marketing schemes mentioned above (eg posts 11, 14, 40), please also take time to read MLMWatch.com which will provide an alternative perspective on many MLM schemes. It is worth noting that MLM and Pyramid schemes only differ slightly, so please read up before joining one of the many (usually quite legal) schemes and make your own choices based on the widest possible information for your investment.

  • Comment number 58.

    This is very popular in South Wales at the moment. I have had several people trying to get me to get involved (inc my family) I have explained the simple maths just don't stack up, but they get blinded because some (the lucky few) get paid out and this just adds to the momentum. The maths are amazing, after the first run, the eight at the bottom need to get to the top therefore there are now 8 pyramids, so there must be 64 at the bottom, for them to reach the top needs 8 at the bottom of 64 pyramids.... and so on, soon the numbers become so big there are not enough people on our planet to fill the bottom row. At that point it collapses and 80% lose their money. It's just a matter of time. There is no magic trick here £3000 cannot just become £24000. The one in South Wales is called key of fortune.

  • Comment number 59.

    Illegal or not illegal is makes no sense. The scheme itself is flawed; do the math yourself and you'll see that ultimately people HAVE to lose out and therefore the scheme will always break and THAT is how the money is made because some people will not be able to fill the gap.

    The scheme ironically succeeds based on the failure of the links breaking. If they never broke you would actually 'invite' the entire population of the UK beyond the 8th generation. Now that is inevitable for any of these schemes to happen. Why does it not, simple, because the chain always breaks and therefor the people at the bottom WILL lose.

    These schemes are only effective if you are at the top for a short while from the START of a new pyramid. This is why the scheme is illegal.

    That girl just has no sense and should consider a career as a policitian.

  • Comment number 60.

    I've recently been invited to one of these meetings in Torquay, gaming for ladies is the word. It's made easy and lots of men join with womens names. Only they can't go to a pay out. Biggest load of rubbish and
    totally dishonest

  • Comment number 61.

    This scam is the same as [scheme name removed by Moderator] These schemes wreck peoples lives and families. If it is too good to be true then it usually is! Unfortunately they feed on the greed or vulnerability of people.

  • Comment number 62.

    Here's some thoughts for all the people considering something like this scheme.

    1) If you had found a scheme like this where you make a huge return for little or no risk - would you tell other people about it?

    2) If a scheme like this worked, and you could effectively produce money for doing absolutely nothing. Then the consequences would be that money (value) would rapidly become worthless. Why would anyone work, when they can simply invest in one of these magic schemes. You would find that monetary value would be 0 and prices would be rising at an uncontrollable rate - the entire world economy would collapse very rapidly.

    Whilst the collapse of the world economy may still happen, it won't be because of some 'magic beans scheme' that someone with a poor understanding of maths has developed.

    I argued hard against these schemes in the 90's, only to be told by my friends that 'this one is different' or 'this one works'.

    What a pyramid scheme does demonstrate is the large proportion of people out there who are essentially lazy and not very clever.

    Maybe pyramid schemes perform a natural selection process for the financially terse!

  • Comment number 63.

    Pyramid scheme definately I have lost money in this 4 years ago, I saw one family lost £12000, another one £9000,another loose £6000 plus I seen an entire group loose £75,000 the list is endless this scheme is sold on quick turnaround, that its tax free apparently. I have been to various meetings and seen cash change hands, a meeting hertfordshire I saw £250,000 change hands one night, the venue was in a very luxurious part of the country, the barn was packed with loads of people. The way in which they get you to believe it works that it moves from town to town, Please Please heed this warning this is a scam, you are only guaranteed to loose money, the winners are those who are near or at the top. People4justice

  • Comment number 64.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 65.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 66.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 67.

    So if you are 18 and gamble playing cards and games in a casino or bingo hall that is legal.
    But if you gamble and you play cards and games in your own home
    it is not legal?
    Is gambling at home illegal?

  • Comment number 68.

    I was involved with something about 2000 called women empowering women. I put £1000 in and got £8000 out with my friend who had the same. We then put £2000 back in and lost it all. We did make £5000 clear. We were fortunate in the 1st instance but I know many people who ost alot of money. I would never take the chance again and I think it should be stopped because people are desperate to make money in any way at the moment.

  • Comment number 69.

    I wonder how successful Lindi's victims/associates/friends have been in implementing this scam/networking thingymajigg themselves and whether they regret handing over £1,000.

  • Comment number 70.

    I hope you revisit the topic perhaps three or six months down the line, to reveal how many people made money and how many lost money.

    I have to wonder what Lindi Mngaza would have to say for herself at that point. There's no way this scam can be defended.

 

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