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Founded in Russia and active in Africa, the company is offering ‘unrealistic’ returns. From Moneyweb.

Its website reads like a revolutionary manifesto, proclaiming that MMM is – oh, ‘any definition whatsoever’. Image: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

The Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) has warned the public to be careful of MMM Krypto, a scheme originating in Russia and promising returns of 24-36% a month.

MMM Krypto is a rebrand of MMM Global, which roped in millions of people across Africa in recent years. It was labelled one of the biggest Ponzi schemes of the 1990s, using funds from new investors to pay out older ones.

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The company’s website reads like a revolutionary manifesto: “MMM is a Global Mutual Aid Fund, World people’s Bank, Financial Social Network — or any definition whatsoever. The point is not in the title. The bottom line is that this is a voluntary informal association of millions and millions of people throughout the Earth, rebelled against the financial slavery, chose to declare war against the Fed and banks.”

The scheme offers “help” in the form of a loan when it is needed, and purports to operate as a kind of peer-to-peer lending bank.

Tread warily

“It has come to the attention of the FSCA that MMM Krypto might be rendering financial services to members of the public in South Africa,” says the FSCA in a statement.

“The scheme uses social media and a referral system to encourage people to join, along with promises of returns of between 24% and 36% a month.”

“The FSCA is concerned about the unrealistic monthly returns offered to members of the public in South Africa. Without commenting on the business of MMM Krypto, the FSCA points out that offering financial products or services in South Africa requires authorisation by the FSCA.

“MMM Krypto is not licensed under any financial sector law to provide financial products or financial services in South Africa. MMM Krypto was not available for comment,” says the FSCA.

Background

The company was founded in Russia in 1989 by brothers Sergei and Vyacheslav Mavrodi, and Olga Melnikova – the initials of the three surnames giving rise to the company name MMM.

Sergei Mavrodi, who was elected to the Russian Duma (parliament) in 1994, was convicted of fraud in 2007 and given a sentence of four and a half years. He passed away of a heart attack in 2018.

The scheme started targeting people in developing countries more than a decade ago.

It recently held an event in Durban, luring investors with claims of making returns of 30% a month.

Mavrodi launched MMM-2011 as a global financial mutual aid society in 2011, apparently a new and improved version of the earlier MMM.

Under this new scheme, funds would remain in the accounts of participants, “by-passing government supervision and avoiding all potential legal problems”, according to the MMM Krypto website.

That scheme attracted a swarm of negative publicity and was quickly shut down. Various successor organisations were set up in the following years and at one point claimed to have 250 million members worldwide.

Branches in Africa

Branches were opened in SA, Nigeria, Zimbabwe and some east African countries.

The company’s website warns visitors that: “There are no guarantees and promises! Neither explicit nor implicit.”

A previous incarnation of MMM roped in an estimated three million Nigerians who lost millions of US dollars by 2017, according to the Nigerian Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC).

The scheme also fell foul of regulators in Zimbabwe in 2016, when the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe warned that participants were paid money “not from genuine market investment of their funds, but from contributions made by new investors, until a point when the scheme can no longer attract new investors”.

Read/listen: If it seems too good to be true, it may be an online trading scam

The FSCA says it has referred the MMM Krypto to the National Consumer Commission for further investigation.

The FSCA also advises members of the public to first check whether an entity providing financial products and services is licensed to do so, and to check what advice the licence authorises the financial services provider (FSP) to offer.

The FSCA has a search page here, or a toll-free number at 0800 110 443.