Virtual currencies have become increasingly popular in more recent times. Many have taken part in these schemes with hopes of receiving large returns after “investing” their money over a short period of time; promising large returns of almost double of what was invested.
Virtual currency schemes usually have very attractive and mostly unrealistic interest rates. They offer many potential benefits, which include greater speed and efficiency in making payments and transfers particularly across borders and ultimately promoting financial inclusion. However, Virtual Currencies pose considerable risks as potential vehicles for money laundering, terrorist financing, tax evasion and fraud.
In 2014, the European Banking Authority defined Virtual Currencies as a digital representation of value that is neither issued by a central bank or a public authority, nor necessarily attached to a fiat currency, but is accepted by natural or legal persons as a means of payment and can be transferred, stored or traded electronically”.
I will be referring to a very “popular” virtual currency system currently in Nigeria: MMM.
MMM is a Ponzi scheme which was established in Russia in 1990 by Sergei Mavrodi. The scheme has been introduced to developing countries like India, South Africa, and Zimbabwe.
In November 2015, MMM launched a website targeting the Nigerian audience, also claiming a “30% per month” return including other acquirable bonuses on the first ‘contribution’. MMM was described as a “mutual aid fund where ordinary people help each other” which they termed as “Providing Help” and “Getting Help”. With the current economic situation of the country, the unemployment rate, quick returns almost out of this world in such a short period of time, it’s no surprise that there were over 2.4 million people registered on MMM by late 2016.
The scheme was running smoothly, until they (MMM) claimed that traffic on the website was “too much” and they had to temporarily close the site and would re-open on the 14th of January, 2017. They also blamed the government for causing fear and making MMM ‘investors’ skeptical of ‘providing help’.
Government bodies like the Central Bank of Nigeria have warned Nigerians against making investments in virtual currency operations in Nigeria.
The MMM Nigeria site was re-opened on the date promised. However, many people have not received payments from their ‘investments’. MMM Nigeria reopened with a new ‘twist’, in a letter to its participants introducing Bitcoin as a part of the scheme. They informed participants that they would be able to make and receive payments in Bitcoin instead of bank transactions which was the previous system.
Bitcoin uses peer-to-peer technology to operate with no central authority or banks managing transactions and the issuing of Bitcoin is carried out collectively by its network. This means that MMM Nigeria will no longer have the same effect as it did and many Nigerian participants will struggle to adapt to the new system being embraced.
Most importantly, while risks to the conduct of monetary policy seem less likely to arise at this stage given the very small scale of virtual currencies operating in Nigeria, virtual currencies are difficult to regulate as they cut across the responsibilities of different agencies at the national level, and operate on a global scale. Many virtual currencies are opaque and operate outside of the conventional financial system, making it difficult to monitor their operations.
Now that we’ve got all this information about virtual currencies, and the impact it’s made in Nigeria. Let me know your experiences with MMM, were you one of the people that got their money stuck at the end? or one of thoses that made thousands of naira from it?