This post is about the time when I almost joined a Ponzi scheme. It all started with a colleague “K” who I had worked with, in 2 different companies and had known for many years. I considered him a friend (still do). Now, K always talked about a childhood friend of his, “Z” whom he clearly admired. Z bought a new car, Z bought a PS3, Z is vacationing in Europe etc. Eventually, we all knew Z by proxy.
Now, our friend K was not a very sociable person by nature. We hardly met or called each other outside work or visited each other at our homes. So, it was weird when one day K called me out of the blue, on a Saturday and asked me to meet for coffee. When I asked him what’s up, he said he wanted to introduce me to his friend Z and just have coffee together. I didn’t have any exciting plans then, so I agreed.
I met them at a swanky café at a reputable (disreputable, as I later found out) market in South Delhi. K was waiting outside with Z. Z immediately frowned and made a disappointing face when he saw me arrive on my motorcycle. K must have noticed this because he immediately said awkwardly something on the lines of “He also has a car, but is passionate about biking”. Introductions were made and we went inside the café.
Z starts by plopping his BMW keys on the table asking me what my dreams are. I tell him that I like travelling. Z asks me how I would feel if some day I could just pack my bags on a whim, go to the airport without any plans and just chose a country from the flight list to fly to. I told Z that an Indian passport doesn’t work that way and Indians can’t just travel to many places without a visa. I must have embarrassed K again because he awkwardly turned it into a joke and we all laughed.
Z continues by telling me he made smart investments in a business a few years ago and now has enough money to do whatever he wants in life. He also tells me that on K’s insistence, and on identifying certain qualities in me (over half a cup of coffee, no less), he is ready to make me a partner in his business. All I had to do, in return, was to make a small investment to get started and then sit back and watch the money pouring in.
Immediately, alarm bells start to go off in my head. By this point, I also start to notice that every other table at this cafe is also occupied by people engaged in a similar conversation as us. I understand that I am being baited for some kind of Ponzi scheme and make up my mind that I need to get out, quick. Z asks me for a measly investment of ₹100000 and informs me that the window of opportunity will not be open for long.
I tell him I will go to the ATM and withdraw the cash. He asks me not to sweat it and fishes a POS machine out of his bag and asks for my card. He also tells me they have partnerships with many banks and they can get me a loan in a few hours. I tell him some bullshit about my card being blocked on POS machines and insist on going to the ATM.
Z must have sensed I am about to bail because he frowns and says maybe K was wrong about my potential. I immediately high tail it out of the cafe and the market, start my bike and am out of that area in 10 seconds flat without even paying for the parking. I feel my phone ring in my pocket, but reach inside my pocket and switch it off. The entire ride home, I am racked with guilt on ditching my friend K and leaving him in such an awkward situation.
By the time I reach home, though, I realise it’s not my fault. It was K’s fault for using his friendship with me for such purposes and tricking me into such a position. By the time I switch my phone ON and get many missed call alerts from K, I am livid with K for doing this and plan to confront him at work on Monday.
Over the weekend, I calmed down and realised what must have happened. Z must have convinced K into this Ponzi scheme. K was just trying to recoup the “investment” he put in. I also realised that doing all this must have been even more awkward and difficult for K than it was for me. I began to feel pity for him and wondered how Z could involve someone like K (unsociable, awkward), his childhood friend into such a thing.
When I researched more about QNET and MLM in general, I realised that almost everyone involved (except the people on top) are just trying to recoup their losses. And for money, they will get over their awkwardness, phobias and use their friendships to rope others in.
Monday at work was a bit awkward, K and I exchanged pleasantries but didn’t talk to each other like we used to. It took many days for the awkwardness to subside and many weeks for things to go back to normal. We never spoke about it ever again.
Later, I heard from others that K had approached them, too, but didn’t find anyone who had gotten in. I wonder if K was able to recoup his losses. Maybe some day I will ask him and we will laugh about it.