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Monday, 3 June 2019

Lagos residents lose over N100m to Ponzi scheme


It was horror for residents of Cow Lane and its environs on Thursday morning, when the Lagos Island community woke up to a rude realisation that some fraudsters had defrauded them of over N200 million and vanished into thin air. Saturday Telegraph learnt that many Islanders are still boiling with rage, and have already damaged the doors of the now abandoned shop of Digital Investment Company, at 17, Cow Lane, Lagos Island, where the fraudsters operated their wonder bank from.

A resident, who spoke to our correspondent, Emmanuel Mokoro, said their anger is fuelled by the boldness with which the fraudsters came into the heart of the city reputed to be inhabited by wise people (Ilu Ogbon}, and swindled them of their hard earned money. 

Mokoro explained that victims of the Ponzi scheme operators include petty traders, transport union executives, group leaders, workers and landlords, who were greedy enough to invest personal and borrowed funds in the Digital Investment Company’s wonder bank. 

According to Mokoro, Digital Investment Company said to be operated by about five Igbo-speaking young men, opened a shop on 17, Cow Lane, on May 4, as an outfit that accepts minimum deposit of N50, 000 from willing clients and pays back the principal amount plus 50% interest to depositors. 
“They started taking deposits from people and after five days they would give plus 50% of their deposits. Seeing that many people were rushing to take advantage of the quick money making scheme, they increased the percentage to 70%.

That means if you, for instance, deposited N1million, after five days you get N1.7million. “They usually resumed in the morning at 5pm; some of their staff will close for the day while others will remain in the office till 8pm to sort payments for depositors due to collect the proceeds of their investment the next day, Mokoro added. 

Apparently, more depositors, who embraced the scheme, began to deposit huge amounts running into millions after the percentage was raised. As it is usually the case – after the order of MMM, another Ponzi scheme that left many people defrauded heavily – the fraudsters faithfully paid the proceeds until that fateful Thursday morning when they nowhere to be found.

“But today (Thursday) is the first day they suddenly got missing. People were expecting them to come and give them their money. 
What they actually do is to send SMS messages to people to inform them that their deposits had matured and invite them to come for collection. 

“Unfortunately, nobody received alert for people to come and collect money that day. Some people thought it was because of the Thursday environmental cleanup exercise; others thought it was because it was early morning rain and decided to wait for a while. When they could no long wait, the people decided to go and check the operators.

That is how they discovered that something was definitely wrong,” our source further related. “The crowd of the victims of the wonder bank gathered and filled the length and breadth of the street. 
They were uncountable. Many tried to reach the Digital Investment operators on the telephone only to discover that the fraudsters had diverted all calls as some person speaking Hausa, Igbo, Yoruba and other Nigerian languages picked their call,” another resident told our correspondent in confidence. All the people who spoke to Saturday Telegraph said that nobody noticed when the fraudsters vacated their Cow Lane office.

As at the time of filing this report, the whereabouts of the key operators said to be led by an Igbo-speaking person simply identified as John is still unknown. Also the casual employees who worked for the fraudsters and were paid on a daily basis had also disappeared. One of the victims, who introduced herself simply as Adebukola said:

“I lost N400,000. Also, I introduced a lot of people from my place of work and they invested huge amounts. My next door neighbour also deposited N500,000. We are due to collect the proceeds on Saturday (today). 

But as it is now, we have all lost our investments.” “When I went deposit another N100,000 just yesterday (Wednesday}, I noticed that they were packing money away in big sacks; but it did not occur to me that they might be preparing to running away. I am supposed to collect part of the proceeds from my investment today, (May 30) another part tomorrow (May 31) and that third today Saturday, May 31.

I collected one yesterday (May 29) but due to greediness, I reinvested everything into the scheme. I sold half of my market but instead of replenishing my stuck, I chose to invest it in the scheme,” Adebukola cried; adding: “Nobody will hear of money and not want to get a bite of it.” She continued:

“When I came in contact with Digital Investiment Company, they told us that they were into exchange of dollars, and that their boss resides in the United States of America. They started the business on May 4, so it is not even up to one month. They raised the bar on maximum investment on May 27, not up a week.”

Mokoro added that since that happened and the interest rate went as high as 70%, the fraudsters had not paid any proceeds to anybody. More pathetic is the case of an executive of Tricycle Operators Union in the area, Yusuf Mohammed who invested N5million. Mohammed narrated his ordeal to Saturday Telegraph thus: “Five million na hin I put there day before yesterday sir. I never collect one naira. If I catch them eh hmm.

My wife don faint ooo. E dey for general hospital now. Aaah na another money be that. Haba. I must collect my money on Friday to buy asho odun for my people. That is why am going up and down. If I go like this I go turn, turn again and turn again,” 

Yusuf lamented in pidgin English as he walked about dejectedly. Another victim of the Ponzi scheme, a young man who gave his name simply as Adewale said he lost N150, 000 to the Ponzi scheme:
“The Digital Investment Company told us that they make their own money from an undisclosed internet business which they said yields much more profit. According to one of the operators, when they collect money from us they can easily pay 50 % or 70% interest and make profit without stress.” 

“So people poured in the hard earned money, even borrowed from other people, microfinance banks and association funds because we saw that we could make quick profits from the scheme. 
Even yesterday before they disappeared, I saw some people investing N4million, N5million N3million according to their capacities. Unfortunately, I do not know if any of us took pictures of the operators of what we now know as wonder bank,” he moaned.

He added: “My friend and I jointly invested in the scheme and collected N150,000 yesterday (Wednesday). We were already walking away but decided to reinvest the money so that we could collect much more money. We thought that since they paid one year’s rent for the office they were using on Cow Lane, that they were going to stay longer. Eventually, they disappeared suddenly with our money.”

The last last victim could have escaped, but greed and desperation did not allow her to keep her money safe. 
“Their last victim came after they had closed for the day. She was even the one begging them to please allow her to make deposit. They said they have closed and that she should go and return the next day; but she said no, pleading that she couldn’t come the next day,” another resident, Ayoola Adesina recollected. 

Saturday Telegraph further learnt that the operators of Digital Investment Company would probably not have abandoned their burgeoning business so suddenly. But luck ran out on them when a certain lady visited them unannounced the previous day (Wednesday}. 
Mokoro explained: “Perhaps they would have stayed a little bit longer but a lady came from Ikotun area of Lagos.

The fraudsters had duped the woman before; but when she saw that the people had a different name. She decided to wait and confirm if they were the same group that duped her earlier. 
She eventually met one of the faces that duped before and they quietly took her inside, paid double the money they owed her and sent her on her way. “The same woman went back to Ikotun and called all the people they had duped in her area.

They are the people that came this morning. Unfortunately, the fraudster also suspected that their secret had leaked so they decided to run. 
They weren’t ready to cut short their business now, it was that woman’s visit and discovery that sent them packing,” Mokoro further disclosed. 
Adebukola also added that her landlord also invested N2m in the Ponzi scheme but was yet to get any returns before the burst. She said. 
“My landlord deposited N2million but was yet to collect both his capital and interest before those fraudsters ran away. The man is so embarrassed that he is not willing to talk about it.”
The owner of the property where Digital Investment Company operated from was also said to have deposited N2.5m with the wonder bank. Adewale also told Saturday Telegraph that he knows about a couple of other people who borrowed N5m each from a micro finance bank in hopes of making a kill but have their money going down the drain. 
He revealed that tens of millions of naira were lost to the Ponzi scheme operators especially when the fraudsters increased their return to 70 percent following a deluge of operators. (New Telegraph)

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