BBC investigation exposes European pyramid scam exploiting people in Africa, others

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AN undercover investigation by the British Broadcasting  Commission, Africa Eye has revealed how a global pyramid scam run from Europe is using smartphones to cheat ordinary people across Africa, Asia, and Latin America.

The BBC in a statement shared with The ICIR said, Crowd1, which describes itself as “the fastest-growing crowd marketing company in the world”, peddles a range of bogus products and false promises to cover an old-fashioned pyramid scheme based on recruitment.

The six-month investigation by BBC Africa Eye reveals that the scheme appears to have made a fortune for a handful of European scammers, many of them Swedish.

It said using nothing but a smartphone, Crowd1 claims, you can become a millionaire by promoting and selling a series of exciting digital products to your network.

These claims according to them, have persuaded thousands—perhaps millions—of people across Africa to hand over the 99 Euros that buys an entry-level membership to Crowd1.

The BBC has found that the recruitment of new members is heavily incentivized by Crowd1.

It said, “In its online webinars and events, members are encouraged to sign up their families, their Facebook friends, and the people they know from church. Successful recruiters earn a commission for bringing in new members, and—as with a classic pyramid scheme—for any additional people brought into Crowd1 by those recruited.”

The most important of Crowd1’s products it further said is an “educational package” you have to get if you want to become a full member—is effectively worthless

The scheme appears to have made a fortune for a handful of European scammers, many of them Swedish, but it has left behind a trail of debt and poverty in countries including South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria.

The BBC documentary includes devastating testimony from a woman in South Africa who spent her entire life savings on Crowd1 in the belief that she was buying “shares” in a business that would pay out a “salary.”


“My heart is broken,” she told the BBC, “because I wasted all my money that I could have used to buy a house. Now I am living in a shack, with no money. I don’t have an income or a business. I’m just in disbelief and I am ashamed.”

Africa Eye also spoke to Samtos, a young man in Lagos, Nigeria, who says that, when the Covid19 lockdown hit Nigeria, he was concerned about how to earn an income and was “sweet-talked” into joining Crowd1 by a friend.  Samtos told the BBC that the scammers are in Europe “enjoying everything they are gathering from poor people.”

Crowd1 in reaction told the BBC that it is not a scam or a pyramid scheme and does not break any South African law. They said it is a legitimate network-marketing company that offers products to its members and enables them to earn money by marketing those products. Crowd1 does not make money from recruitment, they insist, but only from these sales. Crowd1 stressed that all its products are genuine.

BBC Africa Eye’s documentary “Unmasking the Pyramid Kings” can be seen in full here.


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