This is the story of an innocent-looking boy who managed to turn an app similar to the Facebook game FarmVille into a huge Ponzi scam which resulted in him fleeing his country with a reported $131 million and sparking a public outrage that even led some victims to commit suicide.
The name behind this massive fraud is Mehmet Aydin, who used to rap under the alias "Egoman" and also tried to sell glasses that he claimed showed people nude before inventing the game, Farm Bank, in 2016.
The game, which was billed as a way for players to “win as they play and have fun as they win,” allowed players to trade virtual animals and crops; however, it differed from FarmVille in that they had to invest real money in what they thought was actual livestock and agricultural land. Aydin said this money would be used to finance Europe's largest dairy farm project.
Players spent real money to keep the virtual chickens, sheep, bees, and cattle alive in order to earn cash back in the game, and they were also given a tiny part of the earnings for bringing in new players. They were also compensated for the time they spent playing the game.
Thanks to the positive press and some people claiming to have received returns on their investments, more than 500,000 people played the game at its peak, with 132,000 of them investing real money, per Rest of World.
The promise was that people thought their money would be invested in real livestock in different farms across the country. In 2017, Farm Bank would put up sales in stores to woo investors and launch real-life farms. Even a local religious leader, a district governor, and a local mayor attended one farm’s opening ceremony!
This process would carry the failed rapper to immense wealth; however, like in all Ponzi schemes, the lucrative rodeo had to come to an end. By November 2017, rumors had started to go around that something was wrong with Farm Bank and inspectors were assigned to look into the company's finances. Soon, the Farm Bank would begin to crumble, with payments being halted and complaints starting to pile up.
In February 2018, complaints from users claiming they were not seeing any returns from the money that they had invested in the app took over the Turkish media, and in March, Aydin fled to Uruguay with upwards of a reported $80.5 million after the company's assets were seized following the Ministry of Customs and Trade determining that Farm Bank was guilty of committing fraud.
In March 2018, Aydin released a voice recording from Uruguay, saying he will pay back everyone that he stole from. However, that hasn't been the case. In the following months, Aydin was seen driving fast cars and living in luxury in many countries, thoroughly enjoying the millions he collected from Farm Bank users.
Fast forward to July 1, 2021, Aydin turned himself in to the Turkish consulate in São Paolo, Brazil "out of fear for his life", promising to prove his innocence in court. Apparently, he had no intention of building a scheme when he set up Farm Bank, per Bloomberg. Over three years after he left Turkey, he returned to his homeland with just $13 in his wallet, according to claims reported by Rest of World.
Today, Aydin, who is thought to have collected more than $131 million from over 130,000 people, is facing up to 75 thousand 260 years in prison on a series of charges such as "establishing an organization to commit crimes", "being a member of a criminal organization", "fraud by using information systems as a means" and "laundering of asset values stemming from a crime," according to Daily Sabah.
How to recognize pyramid and Ponzi schemes
All in all, the Farm Bank scheme has found its place in history as one of the largest and most lucrative app-based scams to date.
These sorts of get-rich-quick schemes generally promise investors returns on money paid in by later participants. There is no genuine money backing it up, and the system eventually fails, leaving later investors with nothing, according to Investopedia.
A Ponzi scheme, like a pyramid scam, involves new members paying off current ones; however, in a Ponzi scheme, there is no product to sell. Instead, a Ponzi scheme is an investment account in which earlier investors get a return as new investors join and contribute to the fund, much like a cycle.
Recognizing the basic characteristics is one of the greatest ways to prevent falling victim to some of these frauds. For example, if you have to buy inventory or if you get more advantages from recruiting new members or distributors than from selling actual merchandise, it is most likely a pyramid scheme.
It's essential to remain skeptical and wary of unsolicited offers. If someone tries to sell you on an investment that promises huge and/or immediate profits for little or no risk, alarm bells should start ringing in your brain, or you might as well get Farm Bank-ed before you know it.