How one woman lost R128 000 to a Ponzi scheme

Everyone likes an opportunity to make extra cash, but some deals are too good to be true… or legal. Last year, over nine business models were investigated by the National Consumer Commission on suspicion that they were pyramid schemes. Qiniso Mbili spoke to *THEMBISILE DUMA, who recently lost R128, 000 of her retirement package to a pyramid scheme.

Thembisile Duma

In 2014, I retired. I had been a nurse for 27 years. I had not yet reached my retirement age and I was tired of working. I wanted financial independence and so my plan was that I retire, get my retirement package and start an accommodation business.

In late 2015, I received my package and kept it for some time to consider what to do next. It is during this time where one of my fellow churchgoers told me about a highly profitable investment company. She went on to tell me that this company was operated by a pastor from Pinetown. My fellow churchgoer had recently bought a car and told me that she bought it with the money she had invested in this business. She explained that whatever money you put in, would generate 50% interest.

I discovered that more and more people from my church had been making money off of this, but no one knew exactly how the profit was generated. The company was owned by a popular pastor that I knew and was now being recommended by a fellow Christian; it was very easy for me to trust. I then put in R4, 000 in January just so I could test whether it really worked and indeed in mid-February, I got R8, 000 back. Now I had my proof that it worked, but I still didn’t trust it. I knew that I wanted to start my own business. So I decided to go big just one last time so that I would cash in on it and then have even more money to start up my own business. I then put in R50, 000 so that I would get back R100, 000 in March.

My two sons also asked me that I put in R14, 000 each for them, and I did. Soon after this, the pastor told me that there were special gains to be made for that month, only if you put R100, 000. He explained that if one puts R100, 000 that month, they would get up to R1 million back in the next month. I had already put in R50, 000, so I added another R50, 000 to make it R100 000 so that I would get my million rands at the end of March.

I then waited for the month to end so I would get my money. When I went there for the first time after the end of March, I was told by a secretary that I was too early to come, the money had not been ready and I should wait for at least a week. I was also told the pastor was out of office for some time. I found this a bit unsettling but I continued to have hope because I trusted the pastor and therefore never expected any wrongdoing from him. I went back home and called the pastor to find out what was going on. He told me that I had to wait a bit longer than usual since a million was a bigger withdrawal than usual.

After two weeks, I started getting worried and I would call him almost every day. I would either not reach him or he would answer the phone and then drop it again. After some time, I found out through his secretary that the pastor had changed his number and he gave me the new one. I then called again but he told me that he was still in the process of getting me my money. I have since found other people who are also looking for him. Sadly, no one knows where he is and I last saw him a day before I deposited the second sum of R50, 000.

It has now become clear to me that I was conned and it frustrates me. This has brought a lot of stress into my life and I am even embarrassed to my children. Every morning I wake up, this is what I think about and it never leaves my mind right throughout the day. My life is now on pause as I try to do everything in my power to track down this conman and get my money back.

pyramid-scheme 2

*Name has been changed

Featured image by Aaisha Dadi Patel