Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Scam the planet? It's possible, I learned today, to do this via an eco-scheme. It's called 'Win the Planet' and it's operated by a pair of young Rumanians and, at first, it looks legit. Save the environment by playing the lotteries? Sure! Uh, then again ...

They followed me on Twitter and they buttress their scheme by providing a website that appears to promote a legitimate enterprise. They even have a fairly slick video that gives a history of lotteries and asks you to imagine the enormous sums of money that could accrue with a global lottery.

Interesting idea? Well, there are also short bios on the two founders, Alexandru Ragalie - a "Financial Analyst for one of the largest food companies in the world" - and Anca Morariu - who "got involved in an accelerated development programme with focus on finance area within a multinational company".

Seems legit. Then I got to the 'Get involved' page which asks for 50-Euro donations. In exchange for the money - which can be transferred by electronic bank transfer or by Western Union (alarm bells!!!) - you get 300 Euros credit toward the lottery. In other words, you're buying tickets to the largest lottery in the world.

Amount collected so far: just over 500 Euros. They even list the names of the people who have donated, most of whom live in Austria, which just happens to be where Alexandru currently lives.

I thought it was an interesting idea at first. In fact, I had images of writing a story about it. Until, that is, I saw the 'Get involved' page with its request for money. Bank transfer? Western Union?

Funny how the whole image of the website changed as soon as I made the connection between scams and these two types of money transfer. I blocked wintheplanet on Twitter immediately.

So should you.

UPDATE: Site owner contacted me - see comments for full expose - to protest about my labelling them "a scam". As a result of the conversation, they have changed the information on the 'Get involved' page.


Alexandru said...

Matt, can I ask how did you connect that fact that if electronic bank transfer or Western Union are the only ways to contribute then it must be a scam?
Did you consider the fact that, as we do not have a legal entity in place, there are no other ways to allow people to contribute?
And related to your "discovery" that only people in Austria contributed so far. Don't you think that it is normal to receive contributions first from friends and the people close to the project?
As we are offering you information on the website about us and our backgrounds, please be so kind and investigate properly before you make accusations.
If you still want to write about wintheplanet, I would be more than happy to give you an interview and answer openly and honestly to your questions.

Matt da Silva said...

Alezandru - I think that it seems plausible UNTIL you get to the 'Get involved' page. At this point, your entire scheme breaks down. Western Union and electronic bank transfer are typical methods of payment suggested by scammers. I suggest that if you want this to fly, you change your business model. Paypal is a much safer option. Until you change this, I don't think that it's worthwhile me writing a story about you. In fact, I feel heavily disinclined to do so.

Alexandru said...

PayPal will be implemented as soon as possible, but that is beyond the point.
It does not mean that your accusations are founded or "journalistically" correct solely on the argument that the two methods currently available on our websites (allowing the people to contribute to the development of the project)are also used by scammers to con people.

Weapons are used by people to wage war and kill other human beings. Does that make persons that have weapons for self-defense or to enforce the law also war criminals?

And, in case you did not notice, all our contributors are signing (along with my signature), a contract

My point is not to make you a believer in the project but to make sure that we start from the presumption of being innocent, a fundamental human right.

As such, I would kindly ask you to at least mention our discussion in the blog post to offer people both sides of the story.

Matt da Silva said...

I can improve on your analogy. Suppose I were visiting a strange city and, walking down the street one night, I saw a group of five or six young men walking toward me. Now, they might be making a bit of noise. Of course, it doesn't mean that they are a bunch of thugs, but it's likely that I will cross to the other side of the road, so as not to be near them when we both get to the same point in the street.

If people want to know your side of the story, they can read the comments here.

My suggestion to you is to provide more security for people. Regardless of whether they read this post, or not, most people will feel as I did when I came across your payment methods. If you want to seem to be legitimate, you need to do something about this element of your scheme.

Alexandru said...

On this point you are right, thank you.
I have already made appropriate modifications to the website to adress the issue until easier options will be available for people to contribute.