By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamians must realise that “terrific returns equal terrific risk” to protect themselves against fraudulent investment schemes, the Central Bank’s governor has warned.
John Rolle told Tribune Business that the promises made by the likes of Pineapple Express Asue Holders, and other unregulated ‘get rich quick’ schemes, “almost required” Bahamians to report them to the authorities before going any further.
Acknowledging that the recent Pineapple Express debacle had given the Central Bank’s consumer financial literacy push more impetus, Mr Rolle reiterated that typical ‘asues’ only paid out what persons put into it.
“The basic point that we want the public to understand is that whenever you start seeing promises of terrific rates of return, there’s terrific risk associated with it,” he told Tribune Business.
“If someone is promising you these returns, and you’re receiving these sales pitches about them, you almost need to report that to the authorities before you go even further. It’s impossible.”
In Pineapple Express’s case, it was promising to pay $1,050 and $540 to Bahamians who invested just $200 and $100, respectively, while also charging $25 fees for ‘processing’ and ‘membership’. Payouts were supposed to occur after 14 days.
Chaos erupted a week ago Friday when hundreds of Bahamians stormed the company’s offices in a bid to reclaim their money, after the Securities Commission deemed the scheme “unsafe and very high risk” because it had the characteristics of a typical pyramid or Ponzi-type fraud.
Christina Rolle, the Securities Commission’s executive director, told Tribune Business that her regulator was “very concerned” by the frequency with which Pineapple Express-type schemes were emerging.
While no complaints about Pineapple Express had been received, Ms Rolle said via e-mail: “We can confirm that representatives from the Commission met with the principal of Pineapple Express Asue on August 22, and expressed concerns with respect to its operations.
“Based on information provided to the Commission, including explanations from the principal, Pineapple Express Asue appears to have the typologies of a ‘Pyramid’ scheme. The Commission is very concerned about the frequency of these schemes in our local market.”
The Securities Commission subsequently issued a ‘warning notice’ about Pineapple Express Asue Holders, and referred the matter to the police for further investigation
It is unclear whether all Pineapple Express investors have been refunded. And The Tribune has also reported on the concerns of persons who had invested in a similar scheme, Golden Chess Asue Holders, which had allegedly closed down without making payments or refunds.
Mr Rolle, meanwhile, said early investors in such ‘pyramid’ schemes were receiving the equivalent of an interest-free loan.
He suggested that the term ‘asue’ was being misused, possibly as a ‘hook’ to suck Bahamians into ‘get rich quick schemes’, as it did not refer to returns on principal invested.
“We want people to understand that the way asues work is that you are saving incremental amounts and, at the end of the period, you get back what you save,” the Central Bank governor said.
“Asues don’t typically rely on generating returns from some unknown means.”
Mr Rolle expressed hope that the Central Bank’s financial literacy campaign, which is expected to fully hit its stride within nine months, would “put consumers in a better positions to make decisions” on unregulated investment schemes.
And he emphasised that it was important for regulators “to monitor what is going on in the community” to ensure that such offerings were detected early.
“Monitoring what is going on in the community is important as well, so we can detect early on when this kind of scheme is being floated,” Mr Rolle told Tribune Business.