Monday, September 23, 2019


Dear Readers,
Eben Gewers Head of
Advertising Sales at the
Sunday Times 
          Is it okay for South Africa’s biggest selling national paper the Sunday Times, renowned for its investigative exposé’s, to accept adverting inserts without question? Ones that cry out: ‘Ponzi scheme! This will surely devastate thousands of families.’
          Scams like this thrive in an economy in which people are struggling to make ends meet, because they offer a means of making a lot of money quickly.           
          In this case one ad was from the impressively named CommEX Global Corporation Limited Sheung Wan operating out of Dundee (population 40 000) in Kwazulu Natal.
          It offered readers the chance to become rich by investing in various minerals from coal to iron ore; manganese and dolomite. The promoters claimed that because of their “long term relationships” with mines around the world they could buy these minerals at below market price and then sell them “at a profit.”
          The big hearted philanthropists that they are however didn’t want to keep this profit for themselves. “Now for the first time ever, that profit can be yours,” they told readers.
          For an investment of R57 600 (minimum purchase amount) you could buy 72 tons of coal which they would then “assist you to sell at a profit” resulting in you being paid R5624 a month for 18 months. You would thus almost double your money with R101 232 in the bank at the end of the period.
          It would have been fun, if one had the money and didn’t mind losing it, to have invested the minimum in coal and told them not to sell it, but to rather deliver it to their Dundee premises so you could pick it up. My guess is they had no intention of buying any minerals at all.
          Similar hard to believe returns were given for the other three minerals.
          On 1 September 2019 the CommEx advertising insert appeared in this Tiso Blackstar owned paper just three days after BusinessLive, the online business website in the same group exposed CommEx as a Ponzi scheme.
          It revealed that the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) was investigating both CommEx Minerals and Coin-It Trading that appeared to be an allied company, as they were suspected of operating fraudulent schemes with a high likelihood that investors would lose their money.
          FSCA was said to have named Michael Andre Anthony de Beer as the director of Coin-It and Patricia Ursula de Beer, who was believed to be his ex-wife, as a director of CommEx Minerals.
            Coin-It was promising returns of up to 200% in only three years by selling trucks to investors, which it would then use for all kinds of “logistic services relating to transportation and distribution” to earn the amounts promised.
            When FSCA got wind of it investigators raided the offices of CommEx Minerals as well as the private home of a former director of Coin-It. A notice outside Coin-It’s premises in the Avon Industrial Area of Dundee announced that FSCA had closed the business until further notice.
          According to this authority neither firm was licensed to provide financial services or to receive deposits from the public.
          Brandon Topham, a director of investigations and enforcements at FSCA described Coin-It as showing “hallmarks of a Ponzi scheme.”
          In the Sunday Times of 1 September there was another insert together with the CommEx one. It was clearly from the same people. Entitled My House it enticed the public to buy a R335 000 a timber framed, prefabricated house over any period they chose up to 25 years. Once the full price was paid the house would be built on their property. It involved: “No Banks, No Interest, Zero Deposits, No Delay!” they claimed.
On 9 September I sent Topham a copy of the My House advert that was in the Sunday Times and asked if they were also investigating this.
He replied: “No we were not, but we are now.”
A 51 year old divorcee who supports her son, his girlfriend and her 2 year old grandchild, was one of the many people who lost money after buying trucks through the Coin-It scheme. When investors started being given excuses as to why their payments were not being made several Facebook groups were established. They had various opinions about whether or not Coin-It was legitimate.
“A person, who wishes to remain anonymous, contacted me and told me to read these posts,” she told me. “He explained that I had been caught up in a Ponzi scheme. I didn’t want to believe him, but he had no reason to lie.
“I realised then that there were no trucks because if you add up all the membership numbers on the various social media groups there are in excess of 10 000 of them. Then there are those that don’t’ do social media.
“I am not sure that Dundee could accommodate that many trucks. The smallest investment was R130 000 and the largest R500 000.”
          All went well for her in beginning as she was getting her regular monthly payments. Then cracks began appearing in the scheme before her contract was over, and between this and another truck she bought on the same basis she lost money.
She was never given any conclusive evidence that the trucks she bought actually existed.
See: feisty rowena james 
By accepting advertisements for Ponzi schemes like this without taking even the most elementary precautions the Sunday Times was spreading misery just to make money. The paper raked in an estimated R500 000 for the two inserts and if they had gone in its 310 000 copies they would have been seen by and awful lot of people throughout the country.
This shocking behaviour was compounded by the editorial side of the paper that clearly does not bite the hand that feeds it.
After being told on the phone by Debbie Thompson that she was the advertising manager of the print side of the Sunday Times I sent her this email to be fair to her paper by getting it’s side of the story. In it I asked her the following:
1.    “Does the Sunday Times vet very out of the ordinary inserts like this, before it agrees to carry them, by looking up the advertisers on Google for instance?
2.    “Does the Sunday Times ever check with the authorities to see if firms making offers like this are licensed to conduct financial services or receive deposits from the public, before it accepts adverts of this kind?
3.    “The Business Section of the Sunday Times carries a warning (nowhere near any advertisements) telling readers to “carefully scrutinise advertisements offering investment opportunities.” So why does this warning not appear on the kind of advertising inserts I have mentioned?
4.    “And if the paper wants readers to scrutinise advertisements of this kind to avoid being had, why doesn’t the Sunday Times do the same thing, especially when the claims made in these two inserts were so unlikely to be fulfilled?”

Instead of getting a reply from Debbie Thompson I got one from the Head of Advertising Sales Eben Gewers.
He told me: “Inasmuch as we try very much to encourage ethical advertising, we however do not accept any liability nor offer warrantee to the content of paid ads. We warn readers in all our publications regarding their responsibility to scrutinise adverts.”
These warnings have got less conspicuous over the years. Top
          is 2010 with bottom the current one that is not even in the
        main paper, but tucked away in the one corner of Page 2 of
the Business section nowhere near any adverts.
         I replied: “From what you say you don’t take even the most elementary precautions to ensure that crooks don’t promote their Ponzi schemes in the Sunday Times, which effectively means this paper aids and abets crooks. I accept that you can’t be blamed for things that are not right in some advertising, but when you have inserts for the likes of CommEx and My House, people in an investigative publication like the Sunday Times should be able to recognise them as suspect.
The Sunday Times clearly doesn’t care if a Ponzi scheme it advertises destroys thousands of lives as long as it is making money.
“It’s significant too that even though the On-line business section of your group has exposed these people for what they are, and so have other publications, the Sunday Times has not mentioned a word of what has happened to these two Ponzi schemes.
“The moral to the story seems to be: If you don’t want your dirty deeds to be exposed in South Africa’s biggest selling Sunday paper, put an advert in it.”  
I also asked him to tell me what they did to ‘encourage ethical advertising.’
My email to him was dated 15 September. I have not had a reply so I think it is reasonable to conclude that he did not dispute anything in my email.
Jon, a Consumer Watchdog and self appointed Poor Man’s Press Ombudsman, who fears that his old paper has really lost its moral compass now.
P.S. From 2010 onwards I campaigned on my blog to get the Sunday Times to stop carrying get-rich-quick ads. Eventually some years later it appeared to have stopped this, but not before a lot of lives had been ruined. Then it lapsed by carrying another one in January this year & I wrote this post. 
SUNDAY TIMES AT IT AGAIN WITH TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE ADS No more were featured until these two Ponzi scheme ad inserts appeared. It seems that thousands of people, many of whom were blacks, who could least afford it, were taken for a very expensive ride by the people who were behind these Ponzi schemes. Like so many big businesses all the Tiso Blackstar Group is interested in is making money with the Sunday Times regardless of the ethics of what it does to achieve this.


Dear Readers,
          This is Rowena’s story of how she threatened to further expose Ponzi scheme crooks on Facebook unless they paid her up to date. And they did when nobody else was getting their money.
“It was way over my head and I was fighting this battle solo on the advice of a complete stranger. To be honest I was getting excited at the idea that an ex-housewife was caught up in this surreal life of crooks, scoundrels and just plain shady characters,” she told me.  
She had invested in two Coin-It trucks hoping to solve her financial woes after she heard the company was promising investors an up to a 200% return on their money in just three years.
          At the age of 51 Rowena had just got a R640 000 divorce settlement, which she invested with Sanlam in 2015. That was more than enough, you would think, for her to start a new chapter in her troubled life.
          It began badly. Our crime riddled society caught up with her. She had loaded some furniture she had bought into her new little car only to be robbed by five men. They took all the furniture; crashed her Getz into the driveway gate and went off with her phone and handbag as well. The only good thing was that although she was badly traumatised she was completely uninjured. 
          Durban based Rowena had to withdraw R30 000 of her money to repair the damage to her car and to cover some other expenses.
          She had no house of her own as it had been sold when her marriage broke up with the proceeds being divided between her and her ex.
          “I had been a housewife for most of our married life so I don’t have a very good CV,” she continued. “Plus I’m not at the best age to be job hunting.”
          While she was still married she had a nervous breakdown. This she believes was because she was so “wrapped up in my own suffering” that she didn’t pay enough attention to her two sons now aged 34 and 30.
          The eldest is married and works as salesman.
          After her divorce she has had to support her other son. He has some disabilities but is studying bookkeeping and works part time driving for an organisation that sells flowers and teddy bears at night clubs for charity.
          Rowena has also taken his girlfriend and their two year old child under her wing.
          “She lost her job when the tea room she worked for changed hands around the time my grandchild was born. They are both wonderful parents and are actively seeking employment so as to provide for their son.”
          She spent some of her money on courses that she hoped would improve her employment prospects, but none of them worked out successfully.
          Disheartened she found she could not make ends meet on the R4 000 a month she was getting from her Sanlam investment.

          That’s when her brother told her about somebody, who bought trucks and
then leased them back to the company. So she withdrew her money from Sanlam and paid Coin-It a R210 000 deposit on her first truck. This was one of the companies run by members of the De Beer family
          “For the first 16 months I was going to be paid R21 687.50 and then I would have effectively paid off the truck. Thereafter I would be paid R37 500 per month for use of the vehicle to the end of the 36 month agreement.”
          This was towards the end of 2017. The value of the 2006 Man truck and tipper trailer was given in the agreement she signed as R440 000.  
          “After the first month’s payment came through I decided to get another truck for a total price of R140 000. For the first 16 months I was to get R15 468.75 a month and thereafter R30 250.”
          The truck this time was a 1999 Peterbilt 362, also with a tipper trailer.
          “For the first 16 months everything went smoothly. I got my payments on time. On the 17th of January 2019 when I was supposed to have paid off my first truck I got the usual R21 687.50 instead of R37 500.”
At this stage she was still well and truly hooked. “I had wanted to start saving the extra amount to buy another truck since each contract only ran for three years. So I phoned the guy who had signed me up. He told me he had had the same trouble with his, and when he inquired about it Coin-It had informed him that they had made a mistake on the contracts and the repayment period was supposed to have been 18 months.
“It was the first inkling I had that something was wrong. By this time my best friend had decided to get a truck too, because mine had been doing so well.”
CoinIT's Dundee premises that is believed to have contained
        some trucks but I was not able to establish whether they were
           just for show or the ones the investors were supposed to have got 
Her friend received her payments regularly for five months and after that they were both having payment problems. They were given all kinds of dubious reasons for this. So Rowena found some Facebook Coin-It groups.
“One had in excess of 4200 members and the other nearly 2000. The larger one had quite an aggressive admin so I didn’t post anything there. I got lots of information from that group though.”
She did however post a comment on the smaller group asking if anyone was still awaiting payment. What followed was a revelation that is so typical of the tremendous damage that Ponzi schemes like this can do to so many lives.
“Pretty soon I had a long list of comments; people were worried about being evicted, some had loan repayments that were due, school fees etc,” she continued.
“Once in a while a person would post that they had received a payment, and the rest of us would feel a little more hopeful. Coin-It told us to request a letter via email explaining to our debtor’s that our payments would be late. I did apply for one, and to date I have not received it.
“So I posted to the group that my landlord laughed at my letter that Coin-It never sent. The next day I received a payment. I also received a stern warning from the group admin not to be so negative on my posts. My friend, who does not go on social media, had still not received any payments.
“About this time I was contacted by a person, who wishes to remain anonymous. He told me that these scams were all run by the De Beers and that I was caught up in a Ponzi scheme. He advised me to make as much noise on the Facebook groups as possible and demand my payments. By now my rational side was kicking in. I realised there were no trucks.
“Then I got advice from yet another total stranger. He told me the De Beers are bullies and if they threatened me with legal action I should let him know. He was watching my posts and their reaction.
The De Beer family is a lot happier than most of their investors.
          Here they have just received the 2018 Mayor of Umzinyathee's
       (Dundee) special award for contributions to sport in the area. At the
 time they were said be from Cosmic Transport
After posting more questions on the groups they started checking so she realised she would have to start her own group.
“Within two days my page which was entitled: ‘Is Coin-It under investigation?’ received more than 200 views. My group grew to over 100 members in two days. It was posting links to other De Beer scams like Commex and Maningi (something to do with upmarket clothing).
“I received a lawyer’s letter telling me to remove my defamatory posts or they would institute legal action. I contacted my online buddy and asked for his help in penning a response. He obliged and I typed it up, not understanding one word of it, and sent it back. I was told in reply that if I improved my posts and took down my page I would receive my payment. I retorted that I would remove my posts and page in return for full, up to date payment.
“Within an hour, R106 000 was deposited into my account. Two days later investigators from the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) and the Hawks swooped and seized computers from the De Beer’s premises.
“The September payment that I was promised is overdue and I did not receive any papers for my trucks and trailers.”
This hush money she was paid did not work as far as these shysters were concerned. Her statement is with the Serious Commercial Crimes Unit and she has given the FSCA copies of her contracts.
Rowena ended her email to me with this: “During all this I have been working alongside people I may never meet, heard heart wrenching stories about the very poor, who took their retrenchment packages and invested just before this scheme crashed. Their hopes and dreams dashed in a moment. These De Beers from Dundee seriously need to be stopped. There are still thousands of investors that believe the lies that they are being fed.
“Please help spread the truth.”
Rowena was extremely lucky. It was a close call that she did not lose a lot more than she did. This was probably because she was one of the earliest investors and more importantly because she fought so courageously to get what was due to her. She made just R62 929. He deposits, plus installments came to R900 687 and she was paid R837 758.
No doubt she’s back to struggling to make ends meet while the De Beers are rolling in money.
Rowena deserves the highest praise for sticking her neck out to help take these heartless charlatans down. When she initially emailed me she did not want her name mentioned. But she agreed to let me use it after I explained that I don’t quote nameless people, except in very exceptional circumstance, because they don’t have much validity. Anybody can thumb suck a great story about an anonymous person.
P.S. Rowena’s story is what the Sunday Times should have printed instead of helping these Ponzi schemers to spread a lot more misery. It’s hard to think of worse double standards than an investigative newspaper that exposes other people’s short comings every week, while promoting Ponzi schemes in its advertisements.