At least three million Nigerians will not have a merry Christmas this year. They are among the 200 million participants in the made-in-Russia online Ponzi scheme administered by Mavrodi Mundial Moneybox (MMM) which recently suspended operations “for one month” in Nigeria. Some of the most unlikely and otherwise respectable people have fallen victim.
They believed the yarn about defeating the ruthless greed of capitalism with a more humane sharing formula that guarantees the rotation of wealth from one person to the other. MMM was established in 1989 by Sergei Mavrodi, his brother Vyacheslav Mavrodi, and Olga Melnikova. The name of the company was taken from the first letters of the three founders’ surnames.
You would wonder how founders of MMM convinced so many people to send their better judgement on holidays and subscribe. Well, it is all stated in their so-called ideology – conspicuously advertised on MMM website – which demonises conventional banks and the international monetary system as serving only the rich.
The way out for the poor or the not-so-rich is to come together and share wealth in such a way that wealth is distributed round instead of poverty. The world is unjust and unkind as it is; only a scheme like MMM could redeem the situation.
MMM advocated ‘financial apocalypse’ to topple the system and bring the downtrodden to the pinnacle of relevance: “Financial Apocalypse! That’s the only thing that can break our financial chains and save us all. Release us finally from the continuous slavery. Everything old will burn in its fire and the new will appear. The Fed will be removed from power and will no longer develop social inequality. The banks as they are now will simply disappear. They will stop robbing the people. In fact the banks do not produce anything useful. What useful can they do? Give credits at plundering interests? As a result all the population is burdened with debts”.
Such an argument is sweet music in the ears of any desperate person looking for ways to exponentially increase his/her net worth. It sounds even more convincing when one considers the concluding argument, “And now we have an alternative – MMM! It’s something close to our hearts! Here people help each other. Today you help and tomorrow you will be helped. It’s the main principle of MMM…. You should not become another slave. Better join MMM and your money will help those who really need it! Poor people, retirees, disabled people…Woman with many children. Love thy neighbour! Help him. It’s a kind of common storage box where people save their money and then take it when needed.
Actually, people don’t need a lot of money. They need consciousness that they have it. Confidence in tomorrow’s day is what everybody really needs. It is just MMM that gives this confidence! It gives a feeling of partnership, that you aren’t alone! At the difficult moment you will never be abandoned but you will always be helped and supported! MMM is a unit of new society, brighter and better. New world, where there won’t be money. Current money. Where everything will be otherwise… Fair and honest. Where there won’t be any slaves or owners. Where everybody will work for their own pleasure and for the whole society. Where Good will defeat Evil! It will be so! There are no doubts!”
But the reality has turned out otherwise. Some people have already done three or more trips on the scheme before the burble burst while the unfortunate ones have only recently enrolled. There were cases of pensioners who invested their entire gratuity with the hope of doubling it. Now both the principal and the interest is gone. There was the case of a woman who invested millions using multiple accounts in order to reap bountifully. Now she is facing multiple tragedies. Even those who didn’t have their own money went a-borrowing.
Because of the current social dislocation in Nigeria where people expect something from nothing, it was easy for the promoters of the scheme to penetrate the country. Despite a caveat emptor by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) many people flocked to the MMM website for the same reason that they frequent miracle centres in quest of magic. And the law stood akimbo while deceit savaged the people. Since there was no centralised account, the Nigerian Law against “wonder banks” and Ponzi schemes, could not track the monies involved in the MMM scheme because MMM did not utilise a centralised account for members’ lodgements but relied on a difficult-to-trace dummy account.
MMM operates as an online based social network, where people pay money to those paired with them in a scheme called HELP. Since people are paired with strangers and they willingly pay into the accounts they were given, it would be impossible for them to recall their funds. According to an expert, “The mathematical algorithm behind the MMM is so complex that it is expected to endure for a very long time, as long as people continue to pledge help. The reward system is hinged on greed, 30 percent flat in 30 days.”
Nor is MMM the only money-magician Nigerians patronise. There is another one called Ultimate Cycler whose website recently crashed and since its return, has not been able to pair participants up. The there is Zar fund (zarfund.com) which requires new members to pay their referral in form of donation to participate in the scheme. The scheme is based on 6-level stage per month. Members make donations and receive donations via Bitcoin and must own a Bitcoin wallet where they can receive and collect funds.nIt is the third most popular Ponzi scheme in Nigeria, and ranked as the 37th most visited website in Nigeria as at December 18, 2016.
Nigerians also patronise the Givers Forum (giversforum.net) which operates just like MMM where one participant asks for help, another one helps. Once you state the willingness to donate your account will be rewarded with the same amount you pledged. Your money will start growing from the moment of offering the contribution at the rate of 10% per week with other bonuses which grow every day. Like MMM, failure to provide help within 48 hours during the week and 96 hours on weekends, will get you kicked out of the system.
Also in the radar of Nigerians seeking quick money is International Charity Club (icharity.club), a network based and a peer-to-peer donation platform. You register, donate to your upliner and become a Grade 1 Member in the system. The system will then find five Free Members and they in turn donate to you. A new entrant in the game is Crowdrising (crowdrising.net) which could also serve as a platform for fundraisers, such as for charities, schools, clubs, churches, non-profits, family, and personal financial needs.
Nigerian 419ers have become notorious the world over for causing financial misery. Now it seems the shoe is on the other foot. Foreign scammers are giving us a dose of our medicine, playing on our greed and gullibility. In the midst of all the confusion following the suspension of operations by MMM Nigeria, some never-say-die Nigerians are swearing that the best is yet to come and that their bountiful harvest will still happen as soon as MM reopens shop.
I wish them luck. But for the rest of Nigerians whose minds haven’t been befuddled by the cocaine of greed, please don’t believe that anyone in Russia or America or anywhere else in the world can offer you free lunch or double your money. If the story looks too good to be true, treat it as untrue. What kind of business will yield 30% per month unless it is organised crime or drug running.
For those pastors who reportedly invested their church funds secretly in MMM with the hope of creaming off the interest, these are End Times. Perhaps instead of Merry Christmas, we should be parroting the invocation, “May you survive the Apocalypse!”
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own