The Commerce Commission is investigating a number of possible pyramid schemes involving registered companies targeting Tongans in churches, community groups and families across Auckland.
The Commission has received a number of complaints, but 1 NEWS understands many in the Pasifika community have been affected.
It’s believed hundreds of Tongans in Auckland have lost money through a number of schemes with the lure of a big return in a short amount of time. In one video trying to get recruits, one man Tomasi Patuki encourages those at a meeting to join a new group.
“I've suffered, you suffered, everyone has suffered but there’s always a loophole and this is the loophole, people,” he says.
“We are a registered company, we only started little but we're growing very, very fast. I can guarantee you guys to join us ‘cause the money will be paid,” a woman can be heard saying in the clip.
While some have earned money, it's not true for most who sign up to the schemes, which are presented as gifting programmes or investments.
“I am so sad. It’s like they are stealing from us as Tongans. The thing I want now - I just want my money back,” said one victim, who did not wish to be identified.
People are promised if they put in money, they will receive large amounts of cash quickly but it relies on them bringing in recruits and their cash is gifted to the people above them. When pyramid schemes typically collapse, the people further down get nothing.
“If you need to recruit people in order to make money and there's no real product or service involved, it's probably an illegal pyramid scheme - don’t risk it,” the Commerce Commission’s Joseph Liava’a warned.
The schemes are running rampant in Auckland’s Tongan community with recruiting and meetings taking place in McDonald’s, church halls and in private homes.
Even on a Facebook messenger group set up by victims fighting to get their money back there was active recruiting trying to lure those in the group into yet another scheme.
Many of the groups are set up using a registered company and supposed contracts - like the one running out of takeaway bar Haamongaa Maui in Ōtāhuhu.
Another victim, who did not wish to be identified, said she saw the contract when which made her believe it was legitimate when she signed up at the takeaway outlet.
“I saw the paper and it makes me believe this is true, it’s going to happen because they let me sign, we made an agreement,” she said.
Legal experts 1 NEWS spoke to say the contract itself does not appear to make sense, with some of it in complete gibberish.
1 NEWS spoke to a number of victims who have dealt with Sita Tu’ima and her Golden Gifting Group.
“They said to us, ‘Don’t stress, just join. You will get your money, don’t worry’,” the first victim said. “After, when I tried to ring them, they said, ‘Oh sorry, something wrong, work it out in a few days’. Since then, I keep chasing and chasing and still nothing."
Tuima denies she's part of a pyramid scheme and claims it's a gifting programme.
She told 1 NEWS that people lost money because they didn’t bring in recruits or left without passing cash on to the people above them.
She says she's joined another gifting programme so she can refund those who paid her.
People 1 NEWS have spoken to say no refund has been forthcoming.
Instead, they've lost trust and cash they didn’t have to begin with.