“Sir, your account has defaulted and we need to fix it. Send us your details.” A fluent English speaker with an Asian accent called the wrong person, a Bhutanese journalist. Knowing that the country code of the caller’s phone number, he berated the caller who hung up the planned scam call.
Ugyen was lucky. He had heard stories about how people were robbed by fraudsters and the many other schemes duping people. But not many are still aware. Despite the warnings and advisories from the Royal Monetary Authority to be aware of scammers, many Bhutanese are falling victim to scammers.
The recent is the QNET, another ponzi scheme that has been robbing a huge number of innocent investors with the promise of making quick cash. Ponzi schemes make money by recruiting more and more members or sellers at the bottom of the ladder. The bitter reality is that there is no such thing as easy money.
Bhutanese have fallen victim to scams before. The danger is that not many share their experience or story for the fear of shame. Not sharing could put more into trouble. De-suups and the other victims did a big favour by sharing their stories. And by not recruiting members they saved many others. The De-suung programme has thousands of members, mostly unemployed, and could easily be a hunting ground for scammers.
Members are recruited as profits made by people at the top are from the cash invested by sellers further down the scheme, not from external customers. In other words, it is a structure where new recruits, contrary to what they’ve been promised, are almost guaranteed to lose out. Sometimes it is the whole family. Worse, to make up for their investments, not many share the truth even if knowing that new recruits or members would lose out.
The stories of victims are all the same – struggling to feed family, paying for tuition fees or helping parents pay back the debt. This also indicates that the victims are the poor or the underprivileged. There are stories of how the shame of losing or realising that they had been tricked drove people to depression and even suicidal thoughts.
The RMA can only do so much to stop people from participating in such schemes. The lure for easy money makes people hide their “new found businesses.” Many only share when it is too late. With so many scammers and victims, it is said that for one victim coming out to warn others, there are three who are silent victims.
QNET will not be the end. There will be more lucrative schemes or convincing ideas that scammers would resort to. A simple way to avoid being scammed is being mindful. How can one win a lottery when you have not bought one! How can a mobile number be picked as the winner of a million dollar “lucky draw”!. We can only be lucky if we are cautious and not driven by the greed of easy money.
As smart phones penetrate the nook and corners of the country, many could fall victim to digital frauds or and social media viral scams. Being information literate could help to a large extent. Technology has enabled fraudsters to reach the masses and they are always one step ahead. What could help today is making our people information-literate. This calls for literacy even if it costs money to government or agencies prioritising austerity measures over everything.