There's a nice quote from Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin empire. When asked how best to become a millionaire, he said you should "start by being a billionaire and then buy an airline".
My point is that it is MUCH easier to lose money than to gain it. Most of us (myself included) find it easier to spend rather than save. It's so much easier for money to slip out of my wallet than back into it.
It doesn't help when there are people who do their best to "lubricate" our wallets. I'm not talking about the Marketing industry whose job it is to persuade us that the latest gizmo, the latest ringtone, the latest fashionable thingy is something we can't survive without. I'm not talking about the cross-selling call-centre operative who, while pretending it takes this long to get our account details, says something like "while you're on the line Mr X, have you considered our extra-high-cost savings scheme?"
Of course I'm not talking about the efforts of anyone trying to sell you an Apple iPod.
Possession of an iPod must surely now be a fundamental human right? In fact perhaps the United Nations, apart from protecting refugees and the victims of war, should just focus their efforts on giving every child in the world a football, some paper and pencils, every teenager a lifetime supply of condoms and every adult an iPod Touch and a wireless internet connection. It probably wouldn't cost much more than what they do these days and it certainly would do more to educate, entertain and protect than they do at the moment.
Back to the subject. People trying to take your cash.
I saw an advertisement in one of the local papers recently. It was very simple, very short, hidden away in the Classified section. It just said "New Business Opportunity - In Botswana. Visit www.richbotswana4u.com". That was it. Clearly not a prestigious company doing it's best to market a wonderful product. Intrigued by some of the warning signs (words like "opportunity", "new business" and "rich") I went to the web site to have a look.
Let's not beat about the bush. This is selling a pyramid scheme. The crudely constructed web site starts off with the teaser line "How Does The Idea of Potentially Earning P100,000 Per Month Deposited Directly To Your Botswana Bank Account, Sound To You?"Frankly it would "sound" a bit better if you could master punctuation but that's a minor complaint.Then you get the now common denial of anything untoward.
"This is not a get rich quick scheme. Nor is it a "tactic" or some kind of trick for making money quickly. This is a leveraged business model that requires time and effort - either your own, or that of your team. This is a new business opportunity in Botswana where you have the 'ground floor opportunity' - what we sometimes call the 'first mover advantage'". As well as this there's the usual pyramid selling stuff about financial freedom, paying off bills and "earning as much as you want".
It didn't take much research to establish that this is a recruitment
mechanism for a pyramid scheme called "Cruise to Cash" being operated here by someone called Meshack More. He even has his picture on his web site to help you identify him in the street.
Cruise to Cash is another of the scams based on selling travel discount schemes.
According to one site I found that discusses the mechanics of this scheme each entrant buys the chance to sell discount travel vouchers to other victims. Each of these can earn you $977 but they are, in fact, worthless. Like all pyramid schemes, the issue here is not the vouchers, it's the new recruits that need to join to contribute their cash. Every new person you recruit buys a voucher and you share the money with the person who recruited you.
The trouble with all these vouchers is that they are worthless. As well as being scams, what they offer you is something you can get for free elsewhere. If you register, entirely for free, with many hotel chains they will send you, again entirely for free, some amazing discounts, just so they can keep their hotels occupied during quiet times. A few years ago I stayed in a top of the range hotel in Cape Town for less than 20% of the normal rate, just by registering my details on their web site and picking up an offer they sent me. Go to Bid2Stay.co.za and you can tell an entire hotel chain what you want to pay to stay at any of their hotels. Travel discounts are not something you need to pay for.
If these travel pyramids offer something you can get elsewhere for free why would you want to waste your money?
So how can you get rich quickly? There ARE some tried and tested approaches. You can marry a rich widow, be the child of a billionaire or win a lottery. The trouble is that very few of us can achieve these things. The other approach is actually to start your own pyramid scheme. The founders of pyramid schemes are the only ones who profit from them.
In fact, if I had any commercial sense I'd offer you all the chance to pay me some cash to start up your own little Consumer Watchdog and licence you to start up others beneath you. However, some reasons I'm not doing so are that I have a conscience, I'm not a scammer and I'm most certainly not the sort of scumbag who would fleece my neighbours.
[You can check the online version of this article on the web site for all the links that can help you understand the Cash to Cruise pyramid scam in a bit more detail. I'll also copy every email we got from them.]
If you have any consumer issues and you think we could help please get in touch. You can contact Consumer Watchdog by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org, by post to Consumer Watchdog, P. Box 403026, Gaborone or by phone on 3904582 or fax on 3911763. You can also visit our website at www.bes.bw and then click on the link to Consumer Watchdog.