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Scam goes belly up

The pyramid scheme, Travel Ventures International Express (TVI Express), which took South Africa by storm in the past few months has disappeared, leaving those who invested in it high and dry.

The Department of Trade and Industry said yesterday it had opened a police case against TVI Express “for operating a prohibited Pyramid Promotional Scheme”.

“This matter was reported to SAPS Commercial Crime Unit in Durban in September for further investigation and prosecution,” said Trade and Industry spokesperson Sidwell Medupe.

“We received information about TVI Express and after thorough analysis it was found that it is perpetuating a prohibited Pyramid Promotional Scheme.”

The scheme contravened Notice 1135 of 1999 promulgated in terms of the provisions of Consumer Affairs (Unfair Business Practices) Act 71 of 1988.”

Medupe urged those who had invested money with TVI Express to forward commissioned affidavits together with proof of payments to the Office of Consumer Protection.

Bongi Ngomane, a team leader for TVI Express in South Africa and one of the original promoters, confirmed yesterday that the scheme was no longer operational in this country.

“Promoters who are still luring people to invest in the scheme are committing fraud,” said Ngomane. She estimated that more than 100 000 people had signed up for the scheme.

“The owner of the scheme, Parun Trika from India, has disappeared and the website that was used to purchase the vouchers has been closed,” Ngomane said. “We have tried to contact him through our main communication line – the website – but only get a reply that the scheme is on hold as he has to verify our virtual offices. ”

TVI Express lured people to invest in the scam with promises of quick riches. It’s original promoter, known only as Tumi, started recruited multitudes through word of mouth advertising.

Tumi promised would-be investors that the scheme would give them extraordinarily high returns within a short period of time provided they recruited even more people to join.

Those who participated had to purchase a nonrefundable voucher worth R2 700 to become members.

On joining, one had to recruit at least two more people to buy the vouchers so as to move up in the level of membership and to earn R5 400.

At that level a member had a choice to cash out the money (the R5 400) or to buy new vouchers to sell to other potential investors who would bring in more people so that they could be pushed up to the next level. The returns were as high as R108 000 for those who invested at the beginning point of the scheme.

“In view of what has happened, we cannot continue to promote or market TVI Express because we feel that the company’s collapse is imminent,” Ngomane said.

“The scheme violated the principles of honesty, integrity, transparency and credibility and this is bad for the network marketing ­industry in South Africa.”

Ngomane is one of the few people who received their returns as the promoter had promised. She only purchased a voucher for R2 700 but within two months she received R108 000.

Although her TVI Express scheme paid off, thousands who invested regret ever purchasing the vouchers.

Earlier this month, the scheme’s South African-based team placed a notice on the local TVI express website saying that as of December 4, they would no longer be involved in the sale of the vouchers. All voucher purchases and joining enquiries were referred to the international TVI Express’ website.