Hundreds of Pasifika tangled up in money pyramid schemes

A Tongan mother, jobless, with a new-born baby has fallen victim to a dodgy money pyramid scheme after a desperate attempt to make ends meet.

Not wanting to be named, this mother joined the Golden Group Kiwiland Refund line twice, investing $1500 overall.

She made her first payment of $750 to ‘Alapasita Tu’ima a representative from the scheme, and was promised she would receive $3000 within ten days.​

"When I went to her house it was her and another guy Tom, they were going on and on about the scheme going good. 

"I went on a Monday and paid my fee, where​ she said to me, ten days from now, on the eleventh day I’ll get paid."

The eleventh day came around and her bank account balance remained the same. 

She later learnt the same day she paid her fee, the pyramid line was broken, and for the scheme to work the line needs to be complete so people can get paid.

She claims Tu'ima knew about this and didn't tell her.

"When I went and paid my fee on the day, the line was already breaking up. She was trying to fix it. She already knew that this was happening but she still took our money."

​Outraged by this revelation, she met with Tu'ima demanding for her money back which she later received a full refund.

It wasn't until this mother joined a second time, going halves with a friend to pay the $750 registration fee that she didn't make any money, nor received a refund.

But she's not alone, there are more than 100 members that joined the same scheme, and is in the same position as her. 

PMN News contacted Tu’ima asking why they haven't been paid. She pointed the finger to U.S resident Line Dunphy who is said to be the mastermind behind the scheme.

In a text message Tu'ima says: "Line Dunphy is the person you should be contacting because she ran the program and we did our part by sending the New Zealand people’s gift to the people I was given by them... we got stuck some never got paid not just New Zealanders but also people from Australia, Tonga, and the U.S.A."

Tu'ima claims she was only responsible for people who gifted money to her.

"Tom and I tried finding something to make money back to start refunding people but it’s been hard, none of the members want to cooperate. They all point fingers and blame instead of helping to get something sorted. Anyways you can air your news. I won’t stop trying to make money to refund all these women."

This isn't the first scam to prey on the vulnerable and desperate members of the Tonga community, with another scheme targeting Tongan overstayers​ being exposed earlier this year.​

Lawyer Nalesoni Tupou says Pasifika ​need to be a little wiser and to think before getting tangled up in dubious money pyramid schemes.

"Think about it if someone tells you to bring in $750 and after two weeks you take away $3000’s not very logical and it’s not very easy to happen, be realistic about it. 

"I think anyone or any Tongan doing it should be wiser and be upfront about it."

But Tupou says it doesn't help when pyramid schemes aren't a criminal offence leaving the Police with no power to intervene.

"It’s only when citizen A and B have a dispute and they go to court, it has to become a civil matter.

"Any concern or complaint about such a scheme, the first place to call is the Commerce Commission. The only law that is applicable to pyramid schemes and Ujama schemes is the Fair Trading Act.  It can be unlawful, but it has to be under the power of the Commerce Commission."

Tupou warns because the laws around pyramid schemes are blurred, it's important to be wise.

He says: "Fakakaukau lelei, fakakaukau fakapotopoto (Think properly, think wiser).

However, Police have been trying to build cases against these pyramid schemes with no result.

A spokesperson from the police told PMN News: "Unfortunately, no further complainants have come forward with any complaints. The files I held have been recommended for closure, no Further Action.”​

All matters have been referred to the Commerce Commission for further action.

Disappointed about how far these schemes have gone is veteran community leader Pakilau Manase Lua. 

He's expressed his "deep disappointment"  that some Tongans are preying on their own people. Lua is calling for those running these schemes to stop abusing people.

"To those people, please don’t abuse our community. It’s bad enough that they’re struggling to find money to feed their kids or clothes them during tough times.

"Please don’t prey on our community they are very vulnerable and it’s a terrible thing that they’re not treated with respect and the common decency of making sure that they are not abused in terms of financial stuff."

Meanwhile, late last year Ngā Tāngata Microfinance says many pyramid schemes use cryptocurrencies and are promoted primarily to Maori and Pasifika families.

Natalie Vincent on RNZ says a new pyramid scheme is being sold to vulnerable people in the form of 'gifting' or 'koha' with the promise of making quick money.

It suggests people can get up to $20,000 after making three payments of $150. 

Vincent says some people might make money at the very early stages, but further on, as is the nature of such schemes, it will collapse, leaving no money for anyone.

She said any investment scheme that derives its income from recruiting new members, is considered by law to be a pyramid scheme and is illegal.