By Pacific correspondent Barbara Dreaver of One News. This story is republished with permission.
The Commerce Commission is investigating a number of possible pyramid schemes involving registered companies targeting Tongans in churches, community groups and families across Auckland.
It’s believed hundreds of Tongans in Auckland have lost money through a number of schemes with the lure of a big return in a short amount of time. In one video trying to get recruits, one man Tomasi Patuki encourages those at a meeting to join a new group.
“I’ve suffered, you suffered, everyone has suffered but there’s always a loophole and this is the loophole, people,” he says.
“We are a registered company, we only started little but we’re growing very, very fast. I can guarantee you guys to join us ‘cause the money will be paid,” a woman can be heard saying in the clip.
While some have earned money, it’s not true for most who sign up to the schemes, which are presented as gifting programmes or investments.
“I am so sad. It’s like they are stealing from us as Tongans. The thing I want now – I just want my money back,” said one victim, who did not wish to be identified.
People are promised if they put in money, they will receive large amounts of cash quickly but it relies on them bringing in recruits and their cash is gifted to the people above them. When pyramid schemes typically collapse, the people further down get nothing.
“If you need to recruit people in order to make money and there’s no real product or service involved, it’s probably an illegal pyramid scheme – don’t risk it,” the Commerce Commission’s Joseph Liava’a warned.
The schemes are running rampant in Auckland’s Tongan community with recruiting and meetings taking place in McDonald’s, church halls and in private homes.
Even on a Facebook messenger group set up by victims fighting to get their money back there was active recruiting trying to lure those in the group into yet another scheme.
Many of the groups are set up using a registered company and supposed contracts – like the one running out of takeaway bar Haamongaa Maui in Ōtāhuhu.
Another victim, who did not wish to be identified, said she saw the contract when which made her believe it was legitimate when she signed up at the takeaway outlet.
“I saw the paper and it makes me believe this is true, it’s going to happen because they let me sign, we made an agreement,” she said.
Legal experts 1 NEWS spoke to say the contract itself does not appear to make sense, with some of it in complete gibberish.
1 NEWS spoke to a number of victims who have dealt with Sita Tu’ima and her Golden Gifting Group.
“They said to us, ‘Don’t stress, just join. You will get your money, don’t worry’,” the first victim said. “After, when I tried to ring them, they said, ‘Oh sorry, something wrong, work it out in a few days’. Since then, I keep chasing and chasing and still nothing.”
Tuima denies she’s part of a pyramid scheme and claims it’s a gifting programme.
She told 1 NEWS that people lost money because they didn’t bring in recruits or left without passing cash on to the people above them.
She says she’s joined another gifting programme so she can refund those who paid her.
People 1 NEWS have spoken to say no refund has been forthcoming.
Instead, they’ve lost trust and cash they didn’t have to begin with.
Kuo fakatotolo’i ‘eni ‘e he Komisoni Komeesi ‘a Nu’u Sila’ ‘a e ngali kuo mafola ‘a e fo’i mōtolo fakapisinisi ‘oku lahi mole ai ha pa’anga lahi ‘a ha kakai ‘a ia ‘oku ‘iloa ko e sikimi pilamita pe pyramid scheme ‘i he komiuniti Tonga’ mo Nu’u Sila’ ni foki. ‘Oku lahi hono ngāue’aki ‘e he kau Tonga ‘a e mōtolo ko ‘eni , tatau pe ‘i Nu’u Sila, ‘Aositelelia, ‘Amelika mo Tonga ‘o fakalea ko e lī pa’anga ‘o nau uki ‘enau kakai ke tipositi ha pa’anga taki $500 pe $750 ‘a e tokotaha kae palomesi ko ‘ene ‘osi ha taimi nounou pe te nau toho leva ‘a e pa’anga ‘oku lahi fau taki $3,000 pea 5,000 atu e fa’ahinga. ‘I he lao ‘a Nu’u Sila ni’ tatau pe mo Tonga, ‘oku tapui ke ngāue’aki ‘a e mōtolo’ ni he ‘oku ‘ikai mo’oni ‘e ma’u kotoa ‘e kinautolu ‘oku fakahū pa’anga ai ha pa’anga lahi pehee. Ne ‘osi toutou lipooti ‘eni ‘e he Kaniva’ ki mu’a, pea ‘oatu ai ‘a e fo’i fakamatala nounou ke te mahino’i ‘aki ‘a e mōtolo ko eni ‘a ia ko e fakamatala pe ia ‘oku fale’i mai ‘e he Komisoni ko eni ‘a Nu’u Sila. ‘A ia ‘oku peheni – kapau ‘e uki atu ha li pe fakahū pa’anga natula fakatupu peheni ka ko e founga ‘e ma’u ai ‘ete tupu lahi kuo palōmesi’ ‘ ko e ma’u pe mei he lahi ‘o e sea ‘o ha kakai te te fakahū ke kau ki he li pe tipōsiti pa’anga ko ia’, pea ke fakamama’o he vave taha’ mei ai ‘e ‘ikai ke mo’oni ia. ‘Oku ngāue’aki ‘e he kakai Tonga ‘a e mōtolo ko ‘eni ‘o ui ko e li pa’anga pea ‘i ai mo e ngaahi hingoa kehe ‘oku fakahingoa’aki ke ongo lelei hangē ko e Golden Gifting ‘i Nu’u Sila’ ka ko e mōtolo tatau pe. ‘A ia ‘oku tapui he kuo ‘osi fakamo’oni’i fakamāmani lahi ‘oku ‘ikai ngāue ia ‘o hangē ko hono malanga’i’. ‘Oku malava pe ke ma’u ha pa’anga ‘a ha ni’ihi tokosi’i tautefito ki he kamakamata ‘o e fa’ahinga sikiimi ko ‘eni’ ka ‘e ‘ikai fuoloa kuo ha’ulu ia ‘o iku ki he mole ‘osi ‘enau pa’anga’ he ‘e ‘ikai kei ma’u ha kakai ia ke omi ‘o fai e fo’i fakapa’anga ko eni’. Ko e me’a ia ‘oku ui ai ko e pilamita’ he ko e ki’i ni’ihi tokosi’i pe ‘i ‘olunga ‘e ala ‘uluaki vahe ‘o ma’u ha’anau seniti ka ko e ‘aho ‘e holafa ai ‘a e pilamita ni ko e kakai ‘i lalo’ ‘a ia ko e tokolahi taha’ kinautolu’ ‘e ‘ikai pe ma’u ‘enau pa’anga’ ‘a kinautolu. Kuo ‘osi senituli ‘a e fa’ahinga mōtolo ko ‘eni talu hono ‘ilo ‘i ‘Iulope he senituli kuo ‘osi pea kuo ‘osi toutou fakamo’oni’i ‘ene palopalema’ pea ko e me’a ia ‘oku tapui ai he lao ‘a e ngaahi fonua lahi. ‘Oku mahino foki ki he Kaniva’ kuo ‘osi palopalema lahi ‘a e ngaahi kulupu peheni ‘a e kakai Tonga’ he lolotonga’ ni pea ‘oku lahi ‘a e fehanuaki kuo ‘ikai toe lava ia ke totongi fakafoki e pa’anga ‘a e kakai pea launga e tokolahi ka kuo ‘ikai toe ma’u ‘enau pa’anga ne fakahuu pe ko ia ne palomesi ange’.