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Fraudulent ‘gifting circle’ investigated in 100 Mile House

RCMP say the scheme has affected a number of people in the community
(file photo)

100 Mile RCMP are warning the public about a gifting scheme circulating in the community after receiving complaints from residents who say they have lost large sums of money.

Staff Sgt. Svend Nielsen said in a news release Monday morning that RCMP are investigating the “fraudulent action,” in which a “gift” of $5,000 - with the recruitment of two other people into the program - is promised to result in $40,000. The scheme has been in the South Cariboo for nearly two years.

“The plan works until the person has their ‘birthday,’ when others have joined in and the original person is paid out a certain amount,” Nielsen states in the release. “The problem being is the organizers typically make false promises regarding the workings of the table and, many times, victims are left with nothing and the organizers profit more than they should.”

Nielsen said local RCMP are aware that a number of community members have been affected and they are encouraging them to come forward.

Dianna Harrison-Jones told the Free Press that she was first approached by a local resident about the “investment opportunity” in the spring of 2020. She said she was told it was a way for community members to “help each other out” in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Harrison-Jones said she hesitated for many months but finally took part in a recruitment presentation in October 2020, and agreed to contribute $5,000.

The resident’s name is not being released as she has not been charged in connection with the gifting circle.

“It was promised to me that I would just buy into it, and that (she) would get her people to buy into mine as well,” Harrison-Jones explained.

She was then sent an invitation to join a phone app called Telegram, where participants in the program use pseudonyms and can communicate in chat groups within their “triangles.” The app also shows where on the triangle a participant is currently placed, and how many spaces within in the triangle need to be filled in order for a person at the top to receive their $40,000 - known as having a “birthday.”

“I’ve been in it for over a year and I haven’t budged,” Harrison-Jones said, noting she suspects that participants are being moved around from triangle to triangle to benefit certain participants over others.

Harrison-Jones said when she first got involved, she had no idea there were other triangles also looking for investors in the community. A message from within the Telegram group in mid-November states there were “30 active triangles in our community,” and Harrison-Jones estimates that there are “hundreds” of people who have taken part over the past year and a half.

She said in recent months she has come to realize that the program is being run “under a cloud of deceit” and she has lost the $5,000 she contributed.

“It’s not the money for me, it’s the people in the community,” she said. “How many more people is this going to happen to?”

Sue Labine, media spokesperson for the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre, told the Free Press that the gifting program is a “typical pyramid scam,” which is illegal in Canada. Labine confirmed that the CAFC has received one complaint from 100 Mile House regarding the scam, often referred to as a “gifting circle” or “gifting table.”

“The fraudster has had many people send out private messages through social media accounts asking people to join them,” Labine said, noting that gifting circles have been around for many years.

“The fraudster promises that for a mere investment of $5,000, they can get $40,000 in around eight months. It’s a criminal offence to establish, operate or promote a scheme of pyramid selling,” she said.

Karla Laird, senior manager of media and communications at the Better Business Bureau, agreed that gifting tables are a scheme that “pop up every couple of years.”

Laird said these rely heavily on recruitment and will succeed until they reach a point that no new recruits can be brought in. 

“The more people who participate, the more likely it is to be successful,” Laird said. “The moment you stop getting people signing up and contributing, that’s where it fails. The ones who are last to enter the scheme are the ones who lose out.”

That wasn’t the case for another 100 Mile House woman, who had signed up early in July 2020.

The single mother, who asked that her name not be used, said she was approached by the same individual as Harrison-Jones in July 2020 and was told she could receive a 700 per cent return on a cash investment.

“She said all I had to do was give her the money and I would get my forty grand within about the next six months,” the woman said.

Struggling to make ends meet, the woman agreed to hand over the cash that she had recently received from a woman she had been helping with various day-to-day things.

“I could have really gotten ahead with that money,” she said.

She began to suspect that her money was lost when other people around her started having their “birthdays” – receiving their $40,000 payouts - after being in the triangle for only a short time.

She said she decided to speak out about what had transpired as a way to prevent others from getting caught up in the scheme.

“I want these triangles to be stopped in our town,” she said. “I don’t want another single mom or anybody else ever being taken advantage like this again.”

Harrison-Jones said her reasons for speaking out are similar.

“Somebody needs to be held accountable,” she said. “If it takes me saying something, then I know I’m going to have a lot of people pissed off at me cause they think they’re still going to get their money. But we need some accountability.”

100 Mile House RCMP are asking anyone with information on the gifting tables to call 250-395-2456 and refer to file number 2022-73.

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