Lodging complaints will help investigation into online schemes as victims seek refunds

While Tongans who believe they have been ripped off by recent schemes are trying to get a refund, they can lodge a complaint with the New Zealand Commerce Commission.

After the news of the scams broke on Sunday, some operators took to Facebook claiming they were not pyramid schemes, but were genuine businesses that could definitely pay their members in full.

There is a huge uproar in the Tongan online community with victims speaking up about their ordeals.

Some Tongan Facebook groups have removed links to the schemes after declaring they were working to refund their members money after realising they were pyramid schemes.

Scammers operating through Facebook promised huge returns on investments.

Some schemes told Facebook groups to register $780 for a return of $6000.

Others claimed that if people deposited $500 for a spot in their scheme they would get $2500 back.

One woman who asked not to be identified paid for four spots expecting to get back $10,000. She told Kaniva News she was never paid the money. She contacted the group and was told the organisers were still looking for a way on how to get her money back.

Ways to complain

While people like her are fighting to get their money back, they can help the Commerce Commission, which is investigating the scams, by reporting what has happened.

There are three ways to do this. One is to phone the Commission on 0800 943 600. Another is to contact them on [email protected].

The other is to lodge a complaint directly on the Commission’s web page here: https://comcom.govt.nz/make-a-complaint

The Commission can take action about misleading or deceptive conduct that occurs in trade, including pyramid schemes. In the past it has warned off people involved in promoting scams and has issued warnings to the public about fraudulent activities.

However, it cautions that it generally cannot take action on people’s behalf or get a refund. It does not give legal advice. It advises seeking information from Consumer Protection (https://www.consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/scamwatch/report-a-scam/), the Citizens Advice Bureau (https://www.cab.org.nz/search/scams) or one Community Law Centres (https://communitylaw.org.nz/).

People who do not speak English or feel they would be more confident in talking to Commerce Commission in Tongan can tell the Commission they wanted a translator.

Tongans and Tongan groups in Auckland appear to have been the subject of what the New Zealand Financial Markets Authority calls affinity fraud – schemes that prey on people who trust each other, such as members of religious, social or cultural groups. They abuse the trust that exists within these groups to steal money.

Citing a TVNZ report by Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver, we reported the online schemes have targeted Tongans in churches, community groups and families across Auckland.

The schemes are presented as gifting programmes or investments.

The schemes rely on promoters signing up recruits and using their investment to pay off people who signed up earlier. These schemes collapse as soon as they run out of new recruits and people who invested later lose everything.

The New Zealand Financial Markets Authority has information on how to avoid scams, with information aimed at Pacific communities, including Tongan. (https://www.fma.govt.nz/investors/scams/scams-information-for-pacific-communities/)

2019 fraud

In April 2019 we reported on a pyramid scheme being promoted in Tonga by a company called WorldVenture. The National Reserve Bank warned the public against investing in the scheme and said anybody convicted of promoting such a scheme could face a TP$1 million fine and 30 years jail.

As the New Zealand Commerce Commission says: “There are no get-rich-quick schemes: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.”

 

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