WA women are falling victim to a new pyramid scam being promoted by social media influencers as a sisterhood of financial empowerment.
The illegal gifting circles have names such as “Mandala” or “Looming” and are run through invite-only Whatsapp groups.
It is believed hundreds of Australian women, including many in WA, have been lured to invest in recent weeks, “gifting” $270 for a promised return of $2160.
Consumer Protection yesterday confirmed it had received reports about the illegal scam operating in WA and warned those promoting it, or taking part, could face prosecution.
WA commissioner Lanie Chopping warned it was basically a regurgitated con-job that was resurrected every so often with a new theme.
“Gifting circles or pyramid schemes have been around for many, many years but only really benefit the few people at the top,” she said. “Often the new recruits are family members and friends, so these relationships may be put in jeopardy when the scheme eventually collapses and people are demanding the rewards they were promised or want their money back.”
A Mandala gifting circle involves women progressing through three levels named “fire” (eight people), “wind” (four people) and “earth” (two people), before becoming a group’s “water” and reaping financial gain.
It works by having the eight new fire recruits pay $270 directly to their water, or leader. Once all spots in the Mandala are filled and the leader is paid out, they leave the group and it splits into two new groups, moving the remaining members up a level.
The scam attracts participants using a spiritual element that portrays it as women helping other women to realise their dreams. Members at the wind and earth level encourage and promote positivity in the group chat and introduce trusted friends to keep the cycle going.
It is unclear where the scam originated but young women who contacted The Weekend West this week said it was rife in their friendship groups in WA’s South West and they suspected there were hundreds of women involved across the State.
The scam has also been promoted on Instagram by social influencers, some with followings of more than 10,000. Their posts and videos encourage followers to get involved and make money.
“This whole thing about it being a scam, it is totally not a f…… scam,” one says in a video post.
“Send me an inbox if you are interested and I will forward you the link to our new group.”
Another posted: “If you want to join my loom, let me know. We have a big bunch of boss-ass bitches on our team who like to get s… done, so come and be successful with us.”
One woman, who did not want to be identified, told The Weekend West she was introduced to the scam by mutual friends visiting WA from Queensland.
She said it quickly took off in the Busselton, Dunsborough and Margaret River areas and she naively agreed to take part.
“Those girls kept bringing up this thing they were doing where they were empowering women and helping other people,” she said. “It was all about connecting and positive energy and a lot of hippy stuff.”
The young woman said a couple of weeks later a close friend called her saying she was close to “cashing out” and invited her to join.
A few hours later the woman’s friend was paid out and by late the next day she too was receiving the financial benefit.
But the woman said she had started getting a bad feeling in the lead up to being paid when she was offered the chance to invest $2000 in a larger Mandala for a return of $16,000.
She said after doing some research and realising what she was doing was illegal, she paid back the money and encouraged friends not to be involved.
The woman suspected she was close to the top of the pyramid because she was paid so quickly.
Ms Chopping said the scam was almost identical to another pyramid scheme named “A Living Workshop”, which was operating in WA’s South West last year.
“People should look through the spiritual veil and reject any approaches to join these types of schemes,” she said.
“Participants are sworn to secrecy which prevents many from coming forward which also thwarts a proper investigation from being carried out. We are keen to catch the originators and promoters of these schemes so we can put a stop to their illegal activities.”
Ms Chopping said it was important people realised it was illegal to either promote, or participate, in pyramid schemes.
Anyone with information about the scheme should contact Consumer Protection by email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 1300 304 054.
This content was originally published here.