About eight youth have returned home from Siliguri, India after they realised that the jobs offered to them were a scam.

Sonam (name changed), who has completed her class 10 thought her life would change for better after an unknown person she met on Facebook promised her a job in Siliguri, India about seven months ago.

The 18-year-old was planning to continue her studies in a private school when a woman sent her a friend request and offered her a job in a garment company.

“I was told that after seven days of training, I would be given a job which would pay me a salary of about Rs 20,000 to 25,000 a month,” she said. “For that I had to deposit Rs 8,000 to the company, Rs 5,000 for accommodation and food, and the rest as registration fee.”

Going against her relatives’ caution, Sonam convinced her mother and sister to arrange her the money and send her to Siliguri. She along with her friend went to Pheuntsholing where the woman whom they refer as a promoter, picked them up.

In Siliguri, she said that they were kept in a room in a rented apartment with other youth who had come there for the job. “We had to sleep on a very thin mattress on cement and got our dinner late at night.”

Sonam said she was not happy and told her promoter about it. “She told me that we have to struggle to achieve success and convinced us that the suffering is worth it.”

The new comers were taken for training to an office located at the second floor of a 10- storied building called Quantum Building, Paribahan Nagar, Matigara in Siliguri.

Just like the rooms, she said the condition of their office was bad with rubbish all around, without proper tables and chairs. “There was no AC in the classroom/office and we had a difficult time undergoing the training.”

When asked about the job, she said they were asked to attend the training first.

During the training, they were taught 11 systems, which include Unseal where they were taught to invite people to invest in the scheme, by promising guaranteed jobs in Siliguri. During the end of the training they were taught, “Calculations” where the trainers were motivated to find more people to invest in the scheme so that they could earn money.

“The more we find people to invest in the scheme the more money we get,” she said.

Just like Sonam, a group of youth left the place and returned to Bhutan recently.

Sharing their experience of becoming victim to such scams, they said they don’t expect to get their money back. “We just want to caution the desperate jobseekers, mostly youth like us of becoming victims to such scams.”

After the seven-day training, the trainers were sent back to Bhutan for a week to bring more money to invest in the scheme.

“If they feel that some of us are not likely to return, they send individuals who have reached a higher level in the scheme to narrate sad stories of how they succeeded by joining this business. They even come with cash to show us what they are earning now,” said Sonam.

They were also taught how to convince their parents to give the money and gave various ideas like getting loans if the parents denied giving money.

They have about three levels of investment that the youth refer as 20 percent, 25 and 41 where they have to invest Rs 7,000, Rs 35,000 and Rs 105,000 respectively.

The more money they invest, the faster they climb to the highest level in the pyramid that they call ‘Marqes.’

The group of youth claims that there are only two Bhutanese who have reached the highest level.  “To reach this level, we need to have at least 300 people under us. Whenever the people under them bring in more people, they get a certain amount.”

Sonam said that initially when she joined the scheme, there were only about 15 Bhutanese. “Now, there are more than 500, mostly class 10 and 12 dropouts who are all trying hard to get to the highest level.”

If that happens, she said all Bhutanese youth would be lured into such scams, which they don’t want to happen.

The promoters encourage the prospects to find at least five people who would invest in the scheme so that they can get the return based on the amount they invested.

For instance, if one invests Rs 105,000, then he or she has to find at least five people to invest the minimum amount of Rs 7,000 and maximum of Rs 105,000. “I would receive the return based on the amount my prospects invest,” Sonam said.

Sonam invited four people and she earned about Rs 20,000 from them. Similarly, Deki (name changed) who invested Rs 105,000 could find only a person to invest and she did not earn any amount during her two months stay there.

Deki said her parents are blue-collar job workers and she invested her parents’ lifetime savings in the scheme because of which she could not come back home. “I told them that I would be earning good salary and would send them money. Without any money to even buy a bottle of water, our condition was pathetic.”

As more Bhutanese came in, about 30 to 40 people occupied a room with a single toilet. Not able to find any people to invest in, it was difficult to survive and decided to return home. She stayed at a friend’s place in Phuentsholing before travelling to Thimphu. “It affected me so much and I couldn’t go to anyone to ask for help. I even thought of suicide once.”

“They call us distributors and claim that it’s a garment business but it actually is people’s business where we have to find people who bring in money to the company,” Deki said. “When we tell our promoters that we are unable to find anyone then they ask us to wait until our class 10 and 12 students’ results are declared.”

While about 20 percent of the Bhutanese who reached a higher level is living a comfortable life, about 80 percent are suffering, Sonam said. “What would happen if the company collapses or if they were not able to find any more investors? Some of them told us that we won’t be able to do anything to them since the company Arch Trademark Pvt Ltd is a registered company in India and such business is legal there.”

They were also told that the agency is registered with the labour ministry and some Bhutanese promoters pretended to go and talk with the labour ministry when we questioned about the company.

Dechen Tshomo