Sun | Dec 5, 2021

Barbados FTC wants stronger legislation to deal with pyramid-type schemes

Published:Friday | October 22, 2021 | 12:09 AM

The Fair Trading Commission of Barbados, FTC, is hoping for new legislation that will allow it to give consumer protection authorities the ability to prosecute owners or promoters of pyramid-type schemes suspected of defrauding investors. FTC...

The Fair Trading Commission of Barbados, FTC, is hoping for new legislation that will allow it to give consumer protection authorities the ability to prosecute owners or promoters of pyramid-type schemes suspected of defrauding investors.

FTC Director of Consumer Protection Dava Leslie Ward said that the existing legislation does not allow for putting in place the measures to make offenders pay, because of a loophole in the Consumer Protection Act.

“If you look at how our pyramid scheme is constructed ... what the legislation would have been looking for at that time was where persons might have a good or service that they are offering; and in addition to the good and service, you have to be recruiting persons in order to make money. So you needed to have both elements there. That is under our legislation,” said Leslie Ward.

She told the online publication, Barbados Today, that in order for an offence to be constituted, you had to have both.

“Based on what we have now, it would not qualify as a pyramid scheme under the Consumer Protection Act, because these people are not selling any additional goods or services; and our legislation says you must have the goods and service and the recruitment element,” she said against the backdrop of a failed local ‘blessing circle’, in which people have been requesting thousands of dollars in refunds.

“What we would have to do is to really break down the legislation and make it wider. That is something we are actively looking at, and we are also looking to address some other areas of the legislation that we believe would benefit from being tightened,” the FTC director said.

She said that when the FTC realised the challenge it faced in being able to help people recoup any money lost through these schemes, officials had to do the next best thing and embark on a campaign to warn Barbadians against investing in them.

“Everything that we could do to spread that information, we did. But it was not a case in which we felt the public did not know. These are challenging times and these are unprecedented times, so I think people wanted to hold on to it and did not necessarily want to hear what we were saying; but, unfortunately, now they have to deal with the repercussions of this situation.”

Leslie Ward said she has not seen so many pyramid schemes in Barbados before, and suggested that it may be a sign of the difficult economic times being experienced by people, particularly where the COVID-19 pandemic has taken many jobs or reduced the spending power in some families.

She also cautioned Barbadians to be wary of certain online marketplaces or investment opportunities that might be disguised pyramid schemes.

“When we did our own investigations, we felt that these things were not investment opportunities, but they were in fact pyramid schemes,” said Leslie Ward. “ We realised that the scammers were becoming more crafty, and they were using these tactics to get consumers to divorce themselves of their hard-earned money. We realised that they started to take advantage of a well-known market tactic of seeking to build trust through family, friends and colleagues,” she said.

CMC