MOSCOW, February 26 – RIA Novosti. Fraudsters are actively hunting for Russians who want to increase their savings in the face of low deposit rates. There are various ways to deceive novice investors, one of the most popular is a pyramid scheme. How to distinguish a conscientious company from swindlers, together with the experts, the RIA Novosti correspondent figured out.
Last year alone, the Bank of Russia identified 222 companies with signs of financial pyramids. Such organizations promise to invest the attracted funds in highly profitable enterprises: oil and gold mining, construction and so on, but they cannot document their activities.
Attackers promise or guarantee high return on investment, which is significantly higher than the market level, and this is prohibited by the law on the stock market. Financial pyramids are very active in advertising their proposals in the media, the Internet, including on social networks.
Thus, on the home page of one of the most popular search engines in Russia, an advertisement for investment in the Rostproduct meat processing plant at favorable interest rates was placed. The site lists such advantages for investors as “fixed contract rates up to 24% per annum”, “legal guarantee of the safety of investments”, monthly interest payments and even “environmentally friendly beef” at wholesale prices.
The company boasts of the success of its business – allegedly revenue exceeds 1 billion rubles. But it was not possible to find financial statements on her website, which are usually published for investors. At the same time, the “manager from the investment department” confusedly explained to the journalist, who applied under the guise of an investor, why such information was not on the company's website and that it could be found “in the public domain on any website.” “The maximum legal guarantee that is possible within the framework of the legislative order, we give as a legal company to private investors, that is, in this case, this is a loan agreement, this is also a letter of guarantee from our second company, as well as a guarantee from the owner.All these sets of documents we legally can give you, they increase, so to speak, the reliability of our interaction with you, “- said the manager.
RIA Novosti asked financial literacy experts and lawyers for clarification.
What the experts found out
The expert of the National Center for Financial Literacy Nina Kultysheva, having sent a request to the company under the guise of a client, found out that to obtain the maximum profitability, you need to invest 4 million rubles for four years. And if you invest 1 million rubles for one year, the company guarantees 20% per annum. At the same time, the minimum investment amount is 500 thousand rubles.
When asked how such profitability is guaranteed, the manager said that the company has been on the market for seven years, its business has been profitable all these years, and production is loaded by 45%. And if the company is 100% loaded with the funds raised, then it will pay off the promised returns without any problems, they were convinced there.
However, having studied the essence of the company, Kultysheva found out that it is an intermediary, and not a beef producer. “They are engaged in processing and further shipment to wholesale distribution channels. In order for such a link in the chain to bring profit, all other links, such as production, logistics and retail, must also work regularly and profitably in the next four years. Fundamentally, we can count on continuity and growth? I'm not so optimistic, “the expert noted.
The Rostproduct manager told RIA Novosti that for the nine months of 2020, which was “not the best”, the company received a net profit of 30 million rubles, and added an unclear phrase that “this is 60% per annum.”
However, in the non-pandemic year of 2019, as Mikhail Alekseev, an expert of the ONF project “For the Rights of Borrowers”, found out, the company showed revenue of 16.8 million rubles, and net profit – 159 thousand. At the same time, she has only 191 thousand rubles of assets, and the staff is more than modest – one employee. The parent company of this company, Russian Traditions LLC (it is it that guarantees the fulfillment of Rostprodukt's obligations), has only five employees. It also raises “very serious doubts,” Alekseev added.
What gives out a financial pyramid?
Formally, this company cannot be classified as a fraudulent company – according to the law, legal entities can borrow from any other companies or individuals, but it has signs of a pyramid scheme, experts say.
“Offers of fixed income with rather confused information about guarantees of this profitability and about the company's management is one of the signs of a pyramid scheme,” Alekseev said.
According to him, it is impossible in principle to guarantee profitability in business. “And these promises can already be regarded as misleading. Moreover, a return of 24% for investors implies a much higher profitability for the company itself and a high margin of this business,” the expert explains.
The firm also guarantees the “safety of the invested funds.” But you can only believe in the safety of money in the case of bank deposits and only if the deposit is open for up to 1.4 million rubles in a bank that is a member of the deposit insurance system, recalls Kultysheva from the National Center for Financial Literacy.
In addition, the lawyer of this center, Alina Stepanova, was embarrassed by the fact that a copy of the signature is enough for Rostprodukt under the agreement. “If I, as an investor, sign this agreement remotely, my chances of returning at least something in court will be minimal. Such an agreement must be signed personally and it is imperative that the agreement is called a loan agreement,” she said.
In general, the technology of attracting investors to allegedly food production is not new, said Alekseev from the ONF project. Criminals often use this technique, for example, there was a case in the Urals, when scammers offered to invest in the production of dumplings, but did not even bother to buy meat grinders, he said.
Why is advertising of financial pyramids not prohibited?
Advertising, which cybercriminals pay special attention to, plays a significant role in the popularity of pyramid schemes. So, earlier the Bank of Russia reported that more than 45% of the financial pyramids it identified operated on the Internet – they advertised their activities through bloggers, posted videos on popular video hosting sites.
According to lawyers, advertising for financial pyramids is not easy to dig, because it may not contain information that falls under the restrictions. According to the law, advertisements containing such words as, for example, drugs, weapons, bribes, will undergo additional checks, and investment itself has no criminal offense, says Yulia Lyalutskaya, managing partner of the Shcheglov & Partners law firm.
There are no special requirements in the legislation and for the placement of such advertising, the lawyer said. “The search engines themselves, subject to the conditions for the provision of advertising services, display rules, are not obliged to check the reliability of the publication. Just as they cannot check the quality of each product offered for sale on the network,” added Lyalutskaya.
However, Kultysheva from the National Center for Financial Literacy still had questions to the search engine: if the advertising message had a promise of profitability, then the site violated Article 28 (Advertising of financial services and financial activities) of the Law on Advertising.
In general, in order not to fall for the tricks of scammers from the financial pyramid, experts advise Russians, before investing their money anywhere, to thoroughly check all available information, including reviews of the company on the Internet. It does not hurt to consult with lawyers.