Thursday, July 18

Too good to be true …


HARD DAY’S WORK: Women selling their produce at a farmers’ market in Lake Toba – getting rich is likely to be beyond their dreams but they make a decent and dignified living.

IT was a Zeek week. A number of my friends were excited about the Zeek Rewards.

They zeeked over dinner. They zeeked over every conversation. They zeeked over every opportunity to share with friends and invited them on board this Internet business opportunity.

The tagline: “Even when you are sleeping, money keeps falling down because when you wake up the next morning, your Zeek account shows more credit balance. Every minute, or every second, there are monies being credited into your account.”

Within a week after I heard about it, even before I got to know how the scheme worked, Zeekler and Zeek Rewards were closed down by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

By the way, what the dickens is Zeek Rewards? I don’t have a clue why it was called Zeek and how it had been able to zeek into the lives of over one million people worldwide daily – growing progressively at rate of 200,000 a day to hit seven digits.

The closure of the website and its headquarters resulted in many losing their investments – both big and small.

The Dispatch, a small community newspaper in Lexington, Davidson County, North Carolina town, USA, where Zeek’s headquarters is located, did an outstanding job reporting the fiasco.

I salute the reporter Nash Dunn for his extremely crisp, readable and informative piece. I may have heard about it from investors a hundred times but I still don’t know how the payment of reward worked.

Nash’s journalistic way of telling the story confirms my doubts about the scheme which promised investors 1.5 per cent per day on their money.

Zeekler was an international penny auction website that offered you the chance to win items by placing US$0.01 bids.

Zeek Rewards then offered to share up to half of the daily reports by finishing a set of tasks. At the end of the day, the investors were paid the profit points.

It was another of the get-rich-quick programme which had allegedly turned out to be a massive global ponzi-slash-pyramid scheme.

Zeek reportedly involved more than a million people worldwide with ‘investments’ valued at US$600 million. The number of Malaysians involved is yet to be ascertained and confirmed.

Zeekers (they are actually called affiliates) bought in with Zeek Rewards anywhere from US$1K to US$10K. Some families who invested together could have paid over US$50K.

It is reported in main global financial newspapers, magazines and websites that Paul Burks, the mastermind behind Zeek, had signed an agreement with SEC in which he relinquished all control of the company and its assets and paid a US$4-million fine without pleading guilty.

What Burks has expropriated from the scheme for himself and his family is yet to be determined. Court documents claimed he took US$11 million and gave another million to his family members.

Some experts on Internet scams have also posted useful advice to Zeek victims on what will happen next and what they should do. But these advice are for those in the US while outside victims have been informed they could contact the local law enforcement.

There is one particular point that strikes me – if you have gained money (that is getting more out than you put in), don’t spend it yet. The trustees may initiate clawbacks. Remember, all your details are in their data bank and they do know exactly how much they paid you!

I know there are many people who mean well. They really want to help others by sharing how they have seemingly earned a fortune from a small investment – and no work!

But any pyramid scheme is destined to fail eventually. Some people will make money out of it but in all good conscience, we know this money came from those who genuinely believed they had found a surefire investment to put their hard-earned money into, never suspecting, for a moment, they would end up getting scammed … or zeeked, if you like. A case of the ‘innocently ignorant’ being taken for a ride by the unconscionable and the un-scrupulous. How reprehensible!

There is this woman Lilly Simon who left a message in an article which poignantly reflected the sentiments of many duped zeeklers:

“My family and I have invested A LOT in Zeek for school, for retirement and for building our homes. Will we get back our monies – this is all I have to live on and go forward. Zeek has saved me a great deal and saved our lives in more ways than one and we have invested heavily in it.

“I cannot and will not accept the fact that this is a scam, so please shed some light on the situation and let the people know if we will get some sort of compensation from this.

“This is grossly unfair to everyone. I am depending on this money for my family’s survival. I am from a third world country and I am not rich!”

Indeed, Zeek’s trail of devastation will have long lasting consequences beyond money. There are families being torn apart and long-term friendships abruptly ended – never to be repaired.

Zeek Rewards has demonstrated the power of the digital transaction and probably made it the most widespread and dense ponzi scheme in recent years.

Stephen Cohen, an associate of the SEC’s enforcement division, has aptly stated to the press that “Zeek misused the power of the Internet and lured investors by making them believe they were getting an opportunity to cash in on the next big thing. In reality, their cash was just going to the earlier investors.”

Despite widespread publicity in the media about various Internet scams, hundreds of Malaysians still continue to fall prey to them.

In this economy, I take it that most people were looking for anything they thought could help and, when they thought they had found it with Zeek, they truly wanted to help others by sharing it with friends and persuading them to also sign up.

But as the saying goes, anything that sounds too good to be true is too good to be true.

There are no shortcuts to wealth. It takes a lot of hard work, sacrifices and the willingness to live simply and on less than you make – all the more reason to ponder on the virtue in this teaching: A faithful person will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished. (Proverbs 28:20)