A Tongan woman has become the latest victim of an international scam whose founder netted US$4 billion and then disappeared.
The woman told Tagata Pasifika a friend persuaded her to hand over the money she had been saving for a deposit on a house and invest it in OneCoin.
OneCoin is a so-called cryptocurrency that was used in an elaborate global fraud by two Bulgarian-based companies. It was promoted by Ruja Ignatova, who was dubbed ‘the cryptoqueen’ by the BBC.
Prosecutors described OneCoin as a Ponzi scheme, a fraud in which people are encouraged to invest with unrealistic promises of large returns.
The scheme leads victims to believe that profits are coming from product sales or other means, but in fact the money comes from other investors and the schemes only last as long as people invest.
Ignatova vanished in 2017.
Despite her disappearance and the arrest of most of her associates, the OneCoin scam is alive and well.
Last year Samoan churches reportedly lost $3.6 million on a OneCoin scam.
While the Tongan woman did not lose millions, she lost all of her savings – $5300 – and did so at the hands of somebody she knew and trusted.
The mother of two said that even when she began to suspect that something was wrong, her friend told her she could not pull out.
She said she attended meetings where she did not understand what was being said.
She was given a password to access a website, where she discovered information that made her think it was illegal for her to buy investment packages for her children, who were under 18.
However, when she tried to contact her friend, there was no reply.
“I think I knew that the chances of getting my money back was very slim,” the woman said.
According to the New Zealand Financial Management Authority, Pacific communities in New Zealand are more at-risk from investment scams.
“Scammers often take advantage of close-knit community groups such as churches, convincing one member who then helps them convince others in the group,” the FMA said.
“This is known as “affinity fraud” because of the affinity or trust that exists within groups, which the scammers exploit.
“Scammers can often take advantage of people’s desire to achieve financial goals such as owning a home, promising to help them ‘get rich quick’ with little or no risk of losing their money.”
The Financial Management Authority said if people handed over money it could be very hard to get it back.