The best scams always come in disguise—and this is the most audacious scam we’ve seen.

For months #BBCAfricaEye and @AyandaCharlie_ investigated Crowd1, a company that claims to be making a ton of money for people across Africa.

This is what we found…

#PyramidKings #Crowd1
This is how it starts.

Someone sends you a message about an amazing opportunity - an easy way to make money with nothing more than your smartphone and some hustle.
If you check out Crowd1 on social media, this is what you see.

Cruises. Cars. New houses.

Amazing promo videos. Massive events. Millions of members.
But hang on...What exactly is Crowd1? What do these guys do?

Where is this money coming from, and where is it going?

The Swedish founder, Jonas Eric Werner, describes it as “the next generation of online networking”.
Online networking. What does that even mean?

This guy, Renze Deelstra, spells it out more clearly. He’s one of Crowd1’s top recruiters.

To get started, he says, you have to “buy your own education pack”.
OK. So if you want to make money with Crowd1, you start by...spending money.

The cheapest way in is the White Pack, which costs 99 Euros.

Titanium Pro, the most expensive, costs 3,999 Euros.
It’s a *lot* of money.

But Crowd1 can be pretty persuasive.

Take a listen to this guy, Angelo Black. He’s another of Crowd1’s top salesmen. 🔊
OK, so we’re going to sign up.

What have we got for our money, and how is this going to make us rich?
The first thing we’ve got, as promised by our friend Renze, is an educational program. It’s hosted on a website called MyGrithub.

It’s supposed to be an education in real estate investment.

But what we’ve got is just some slides with “motivational speaker” advice, such as...
This package costs 2,499 Euros! Two *thousand* four hundred and ninety nine Euros!
But that’s not all.

If we google some of this stuff, we find that it’s been copied, almost word for word, from a book that you can buy on Amazon for $10.

Or you can just download it online, totally free.
This “education pack” is not the only thing Crowd1 offers.

Membership, they say, gives you access to a range of exciting “digital products” that you can sell to your network.

Gambling. Gaming. Lotteries. Magazines. Travel booking engine. The promo is amazing, but…
….small problem.

In every case, #BBCAfricaEye found gaps between what’s promised and what’s delivered.

Partnerships that don’t exist. Content that’s been ripped off. Products that have never even launched.
And the cash payouts they promise members?

Crowd1 told us that we owned “Rewards” worth more than 7,000 Euros.

But when we tried to cash them out, we got….
...three euros and thirty six cents.

Not 7,260. €3.36.
So if the products are not what they claim to be, how does Crowd1 really make money?

The answer is right there in Crowd1’s webinars and events.

Most of the time, these guys are not talking about education...
...they’re talking about how you can sign up new members.

Family. Friends. Colleagues. People you go to church with...

Here’s our friend Renze again. 🔊
You know what’s coming here, right?
You’ll never hear the word “pyramid” in a Crowd1 webinar or event.

But the only way to make money with Crowd1 is through recruiting other people. That’s also the main way that Crowd1 makes money.

This is how it works. It’s complex, so put your sound on 🔊 and focus...
Now, we want to point out a small problem with Crowd1’s model.

It’s a classic pyramid scheme. And in many countries, pyramid schemes are totally illegal.

This is why… 🔊
That’s right. Pyramid scams absolutely *guarantee* that most people will lose out.

So at this point, we want to introduce one of the many people who lost out to Crowd1.

This is Rosinah and her daughter Reginah. They’re in South Africa.
Rosinah was recruited into Crowd1 by her pastor.

She thought she was buying “shares” in a business that would pay out a “salary.”

If you’re thinking “it’s her own fault, falling for an obvious scam ” then just listen to how this felt from Rosinah’s point of view… 🔊
Rosinah understood she had to recruit other people.

She signed up all her adult children and used her own savings—all her savings—to buy them Crowd1 packages.

She got nothing in return, and now accepts that her money is gone.

Again, take a moment to listen to this lady 🔊
Crowd1’s products may be dodgy.

But there’s one thing they’re truly brilliant at: playing on the hopes & fears of their members.

They are selling you status. Winning your trust. Tapping into your faith. Giving you a sense of belonging 🔊
That was Angelo saying that Crowd1 will “bring families back together.”

The contrast with reality could hardly be more painful.

Here’s Rosinah again... 🔊
Now there’s a basic question here that we haven’t answered.

Where has Rosinah’s money gone?

Who’s at the top of Crowd1?

Who are the scammers?
Let’s start with the one we know best. Renze Deelstra.

He’s promoted Crowd1 all over the world.
Renze has been doing this kind of thing for years.

Here he is in 2013 running a webinar to promote a loyalty card company whose leaders were eventually convicted of fraud.
In South Africa, Renze has a Crowd1 partner known as “Mr. Smile”

His real name is Masilo Mokone. He, too, has a history.

Before Crowd1, he was promoting something called BitClub Network which the US Department of Justice described as “a worldwide fraudulent scheme.”
But Renze and Smile are just footsoldiers, leading the recruitment.

At the very top of Crowd1, we find a bunch of Swedish businessmen. And some of these guys also have a history of scamming.
The real star power comes from this man. Johan Staël von Holstein, the CEO.

Johan likes to talk about the tech businesses he started in the 90s. And although some of those businesses went bust, it’s that feeling of “start up” excitement that he brings to Crowd1.
But even Johan is not the big boss.

At Crowd1 events, he often appears with this guy. We met him at the beginning of this thread.

This is Jonas Eric Werner, the Founder of Crowd1.
Back in the early 2010s, Jonas was involved in something called Spinglo-Synkronice.

Take a listen to the sales pitch from the young Jonas pushing Spinglo, and the old Jonas pushing Crowd1...
Spinglo vanished. But Jonas moved on.

He’s reported to have been a top figure in Sitetalk OPN, a marketing scheme that was bought by OneCoin—a massive pyramid scam. Jonas denies this.

The amazing story of OneCoin told by @JamieJBartlett is here >
Jonas is not the only Crowd1 leader with a link to OneCoin.

We found at least two others: Kenny Nordlund and Udo Deppisch.
Hidden in the paperwork of Crowd1’s affiliate company, Impact Crowd Technology, we found another big fish.

Tor Anders Petterøe.

He’s been linked to scams going back almost 20 years. Back home in Norway, Petterøe has a nickname: the Pyramid King.
We put these allegations to Crowd1 who sent us a long reply.

Their key point was: Crowd1 is not a scam or a pyramid scheme but a legitimate network marketing company that offers genuine products & enables members to earn money by selling those products.

More in this clip 🔊
But the BBC is not alone in noticing that this is a scam.

Governments in at least nine countries have issued warnings or banned Crowd1 outright.

In South Africa, authorities have issued a warning about Crowd1 & said they’re investigating.
The problem is, regulators move slowly and scammers move fast.

Crowd1 is now making headway in two of the most populous countries on earth: Nigeria and India.

For much of this year, Crowd1 has ranked in the top 1,000 most visited sites on earth.
At the start of this thread, we asked a question: where is all this money coming from, and where is it going?

We can now answer that.

It’s coming from people like Rosinah.
And this is where it’s going…
You can watch our full investigation on @bbcafrica’s YouTube channel here >

#PyramidKings #Crowd1 #Crowd1Scam #BBCAfricaEye
Crowd1 has a tagline (which, surprise surprise, they copied from @adidas): Impossible Is Nothing.

But #BBCAfricaEye has a tagline, too, which we created all by ourselves: Nothing Stays Hidden Forever.
Very special thanks to @iamkoshiek, Oz from BehindMLM, Matthew Esterhuizen as well as many others.
You can follow @BBCAfrica.
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