“MTl's business clearly amounted to an unlawful ponzi-scheme, i.e. a fraudulent investing scam promising high rates of return to investors and generating returns for earlier investors with investments taken from later investors.” (Extract from judgment below)
In times of economic turmoil, the promise of "easy money" can be incredibly enticing. Unfortunately, this allure often leads people into the clutches of fraudsters who operate ponzi and pyramid schemes.
But why are these scams so successful at fooling even the most astute investors? The answer lies in several factors. First, the promise of quick and substantial profits taps into our desire for financial security and independence. Second, scammers often prey on our emotions and exploit our fear of missing out on lucrative opportunities. Third, they employ persuasive tactics, such as using testimonials and social proof, to gain our trust.
The latest High Court judgment in the MTI (Mirror Trading International) liquidation saga highlights yet again the dangers for investors who get sucked into these schemes.
“An illegal and unlawful scheme”
MTI was founded in 2019, promising high returns to investors (members of “My MTI Club”), pooling bitcoin for trading “on the global cryptocurrency market”. In 2020, referral bonuses for introducing new members were implemented.
This latest judgment is part of an extensive saga of litigation involving liquidators, investors/members, creditors and directors (who still steadfastly deny any wrongdoing). In this matter the liquidators applied to the High Court for a series of declarations aimed at facilitating their claims against investors and others.
The liquidators succeeded in obtaining declarations that –
o MTI’s business model is “an illegal and unlawful scheme”, and
o “All agreements concluded between MTI and its investors in respect of the trading/management/investment of bitcoin for the purported benefit of the investors, are declared unlawful and void ab initio [void from the beginning]”.
They failed in their attempts to have MTI declared “factually insolvent” (i.e., its liabilities exceeded its assets) from 2019, nor did they obtain declarations that payments made by MTI to investors/members, commission earners and others amounted to “dispositions” recoverable by the liquidators. Both would have made it easier for them to recover from anyone who ever received any form of payout from MTI, but that is unlikely to deter the liquidators from pursuing these claims.
In any event both sides will presumably appeal this latest judgment, and for now at least it seems that investors/members, whether “winners” (those who got payouts exceeding their investments) or “losers” (presumably the vast majority of investors/members as is invariably the case with ponzi schemes), must remain concerned that not only will their claims turn out to be valueless, they may also have to pay back into the liquidation everything they were ever paid out if the declarations of illegality and voidness are confirmed on appeal
Even if their claims are eventually allowed and proved, they must wonder what if anything they’ll be awarded in light of a R931m preferent claim proved by SARS.
The red flags to share with friends, family, colleagues and employees
The bottom line is that, when a ponzi or pyramid scheme inevitably collapses, investors risk losing everything.
To protect ourselves and others, it's essential to be aware of the warning signs. Keep in mind at all times that “if it looks too good to be true, it probably is” and be alert to key "red flags" such as guarantees of high returns with little or no risk, complex investing and compensation structures, and an emphasis on recruitment rather than product sales.
Sharing this information with friends, family, and colleagues is crucial in preventing more people from falling victim to these schemes. Employers, in particular, should educate their staff about the dangers and provide resources to help them avoid becoming victims.
Stay informed, be vigilant, and protect yourself, your employees and others from the siren call of "easy money."