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BE WARNED: NBI probes sisters’ Ponzi exploitations

By JASON B. NEOLA


THE National Bureau of Investigation-Naga District Office (NBI-NADO) is currently collecting evidence to file multiple counts of estafa against two sisters.


They posed as owners of businesses involved in selling used clothing (ukay-ukay), distributing imported beauty products, engaging in processed meat sales, and conducting other transactions through international drop shipping trade.


A complainant, defrauded into investing a total of P646,000, revealed that she was promised the return of her investment plus a 45 percent profit within a month. Their transaction took place from April 13, 2023, until November 2023 in a Metro Naga town.


The sum of money consisted of the complainant’s investments and the interest owed by the sisters from April to November. Initially, the suspected scammers made monthly payments, but as time elapsed, payments became infrequent or irregular.


Agent-In-Charge Erwin I. Marpuri said that they are exploring the possibility of having other victims come forward to prepare complaints and necessary documents for formal charges.


During the investigation, the complainant presented two individuals as witnesses who had also become victims of the malicious scheme.


“We already have a case filed against the ‘businesswomen’ after the complainant exposed the deception when they (the sisters) failed to return her money and the promised interest after 7 months,” Marpuri explained, emphasizing the suspects’ lack of actual business.


Special Investigator Ricardo B. Belmonte said that the NBI is filing a case of estafa under paragraph 2 (a) of Article 315 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended and in relation to Sec. 6 of R.A. 10175, otherwise known as the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, submitting hard copies of cellphone conversations and GCash transfers as among the evidences.


The complainant disclosed that the suspects maintained their fraudulent activities through a group chat, creating an illusion of continuous payments to investors and a growing number of investors who were willingly sending in their investment money.


Belmonte uncovered that the scheme was not an investment strategy but a Ponzi scheme, a fraudulent investment scam relying on new investors’ funds to pay returns to existing ones, rather than profit earned, which led to the collapse of the investment venture as the recruitment becomes difficult or impossible.


The scheme led investors to believe that profits originated from legitimate business activities, when, in reality, they stemmed from the continuous influx of new investments. Eventually, the scheme faltered as recruiting enough new investors to pay returns to earlier ones became impossible.


The NBI chose to withhold the names of the two female siblings and the complaining party to prevent the investigation from being preempted.


Here are essential steps to help you avoid falling victim of scammers or Ponzi schemes:


• Research Investments – Thoroughly research any investment opportunity. Be cautious of promises that sound too good to be true.


• Verify credentials – Check the credentials of individuals or firms offering investments. Ensure they are registered with relevant authorities.


• Ask questions – Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the investment, returns, and associated risks. Legitimate entities will provide clear and transparent information.


• Avoid pressure tactics – Be wary of high-pressure tactics to invest quickly. Scammers often try to create a sense of urgency.


• Diversify investments – Spread your investments across different assets to minimize risk. Avoid putting all your money into a single opportunity.


• Stay informed – Keep yourself informed about common investment scams and stay updated on financial news. Awareness is a key defense.


• Independently verify information – Do not rely solely on information provided by the seller. Verify details independently, especially contact information.


• Use secure platforms – If investing online, use secure and reputable platforms. Ensure the website has ‘https://’ and has proper security measures.


• Educate yourself – Understand basic financial concepts and investment principles. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions.


• Trust your instincts – If something feels off or too good to be true, trust your instincts and reconsider or shelve the plan to invest.


Remember, being cautious and informed is your best defense against falling victim to scams or Ponzi schemes.

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