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That Bangladeshis in general love to make it without working for it, may very well be an easy explanation for people repeatedly falling for Ponzi schemes. But it doesn’t quite explain the factors that are leading them here in the first place

Rashid thought he had earned around Tk10 lakh after investing in an MLM company. His account on the app was regularly swelling with money, so it didn’t occur to him that he should withdraw some of it in cash. 

He has been unemployed for over a year now, after he returned from the Middle East where he worked as a migrant worker. There was a desperation to start something at home. 

Last week, when he went to withdraw the money, finally, to buy a car to make a livelihood, his world turned upside down. The app vanished along with all his investment. 

Rashid, the father of an eight-year-old kid, was destroyed. 

He took poison at home in an attempt to commit suicide. The local hospital found his state too critical and referred him to a medical college hospital.

He survived; however, his financial condition is now precarious, having lost everything he had. 

Last week the media in Bangladesh extensively covered how Metaverse Foreign Exchange (MTFE), an MLM, looted around Tk11,000 crore by scamming Bangladeshis. 

This group was active in Nigeria, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, and India. They ‘successfully’ looted millions of dollars in these countries before entering Bangladesh. 

And like loads of other Ponzi schemes – for example, Destiny, Jubok, unipay2u, SPC World and then the new breed in the format of e-commerce, like Jekabazar, Foster, Qcoom, Ring ID, Anonder Bazar, Evaly, Dhamaka Shopping, Orange etc who made fortune scamming people in Bangladesh – MTFE also made easy money luring people with offers to make money out of thin air. 

Unlike the analogue world of Destiny and Jubok, the Ponzis in the digital world come in the form of an app, website, e-commerce etc. In the last three to four years, there have been dozens of them, almost identical to each other, who got exposed or escaped successfully after duping people, and yet more schemes came in and people continued trusting these false promises.

“Our judicial system suffers from long court backlogs,” said Ghulam Rahman, President of Consumers Association of Bangladesh, letting the cases filed against fraudsters drag on for ages, delaying the process of ensuring exemplary punishments. “People’s memories are short. In the meantime, they forget and fall for the same trap,” he added. 

It appears Ponzi scams will be there in some or other name and form, and our people too are gullible enough to fall for them despite all these frauds, exposes, and some arrests. 

Which raises a question about the people who regularly fall for these scams. Is it a little too easy to scam Bangladeshis in general? Why do they fall for Ponzis so often? 

“People’s awareness is low. People jump into things without understanding its consequences,” said former Inspector General of Police Nurul Huda. 

Ghulam Rahman feels it has something to do with excessive greed. 

“When people are guided by excess greed, it is hard to protect them. The fraudsters capitalise on people’s greed. All parties here are actually aware that this will collapse. It is a kind of a suicidal tendency,” Ghulam Rahman said. 

You can identify a somewhat similar pattern in our stock exchange rallies, where Z category stocks suddenly shoot up and small investors keep investing in them, despite at least being somewhat aware that the valuation of these companies are certainly not coming from their business performance.    

That Bangladeshis in general love ‘magical money’, or they love to make it without working for it, or that they are guided by greed, may very well be an easy explanation for people repeatedly falling for Ponzi schemes, but it doesn’t quite explain the factors that are leading them here in the first place. 

After all, the love for making money easily, which is often guided by greed or desperation, is nothing less than a universal desire. 

But what we often ignore is the impact of corruption within Bangladeshi society that signals to disempowered people that the route to power, success and respect is not through hard work and enterprise, but through chancing upon quick get-rich schemes. 

Both in urban and rural settings, when people see some of the most unqualified people amassing dishonest wealth without fearing any repercussions, while they personally struggle to make an honest living, it is not unusual for them to crave for such wealth and power without responsibility.  

We live in a society where corruption is normalised, where it not only goes unpunished but in many cases is instead rewarded instead. 

Besides persistent unemployment, nepotism, absence of meritocracy – an environment where you don’t get jobs without connections or cannot start a business in an unfriendly environment – all contribute to heightening despair and anxiety in people.  

If we look at the story of Rashid, we see that desperation and hopelessness in trying to make a living. 

While covering the story of Jekabazar leaving thousands defrauded and penniless through their scams, we came across victims who had the option to do something different with their money, rather than obsessing about making money from thin air. But we also came across scores of unemployed young people who invested their money by selling their parent’s livestock with the hope of providing for their family. 

In our childhood, we often received this lesson from the elderly that if we studied hard, we could eat crossed-legged in the future. It is a Bangla proverb which means you cannot have a lavish life without working hard. There seems to be little value for such lessons in our society.

Now it is true that ours is a very hard-working society, especially when you consider how our migrant workers toil in the Middle East and elsewhere and how our farmers work in fields. But it is also a fact that neither of these groups of people are well respected in our society. There seems to be little value for hard work in this society. 

People who make coercive and illicit money are valued more than those who make an honest living, for that latter may not make them enough wealth. 

These lessons are projected into their minds, consequently, creating an urge in young people to do what brings you both respect and flexibility in life.

So, as it turns out, it is not just irrational greed or a national dream of a sort that drives people to invest in such crazy schemes. It is also desperation.

Which brings us finally to the question, could the raging tide of Ponzi schemes be prevented? 

This is where the government has been failing to create enough awareness among the people. 

“This is unfortunate,” IGP Nurul Huda said. “The regulatory agencies should be stronger. They will have to educate people. Through what forum, or how [they will educate people] is up to them. It can be done in various ways, including mass media, promotional films, etc.” 

“The regulatory bodies have to work. Our people are not very conscious. And such frauds happen even in conscious circles as well. However, the more the awareness, the less the fraudulence,” he added. 

Ghulam Rahman said, “What the government can do is whenever something like this comes to fore, they should take stern steps against the fraudsters. Bring the criminals to justice and ensure exemplary punishment. Exemplary punishment will discourage such attempts.” 

And to ensure that he emphasised on fixing the legal loopholes that delays punishment of the fraudsters by years. He also emphasised on increasing awareness among the people. 

People come across such schemes in too many ways and forms. In a life of desperation and lack of opportunity, when the old genie arrives in a new charming bottle, it is too difficult to resist the lure of making a quick buck. 

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