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Nepalis lose billions to online scam

Nepalis lose billions to online scam

On 25 Dec 2021, Baburam Kandel from Butwal joined HyperFund, an online networking business, on the recommendation of a friend from his village. Without much thought, he embraced the digital business, expecting significant profits. Initially, Kandel invested $1,000 (equivalent to Rs 135,161.80 at the current exchange rate), but within four months, he was drawn deeper into the scheme.

At first, Kandel received some returns, which encouraged him to invest more. Frequent Zoom meetings were held by the people involved in the scheme, promising higher returns for more investments. Kandel, now 40, ended up investing around $10,000 (equivalent to Rs 1,35m). Initially enticed by the potential gains, he ultimately lost his savings to the scam and deceived his downline members as well.

Kandel reports that similar scammers are now operating under different names such as ‘SBG Global,’ MMIT, V-TABS, V-LIFE, and more. Currently living in the Maldives, Kandel shared in a virtual conversation with RSS that many victims hesitate to come forward due to fear of police action for their involvement in the scam.

Ranjana Shrestha, a Nepali nurse living in the UK for over 18 years, faced severe economic, mental, and social setbacks after losing millions of rupees. Persuaded by a friend of her spouse on August 5, 2021, she invested in the fund, believing in its legitimacy. Unaware of the scam, she also convinced her family members in Nepal and several colleagues to invest, thanks to her reputable standing.

Although reassured by the website’s apparent stability, neither she nor her downline members could withdraw their investments. Ranjana expressed her hope that Nepal Police would help recover their funds. She emphasized that while the financial loss is quantifiable, the emotional, psychological, and social impacts are immeasurable. Ranjana and her spouse regularly meet with other victims, seeking justice and raising awareness to prevent others from falling into similar traps.

DB Thapa, who worked in the civil engineering department for an airport in Dubai for 20 years, recently filed a complaint with the Central Investigation Bureau (CIB) against HyperFund operators after losing Rs 1.95m, including his family members' investments. Thapa joined the scheme in August 2021 and realized it was a scam in April 2022 when he faced obstacles in withdrawing funds. He accused Nepali nationals Devi Pokhrel (aka Roshan Pokhrel) and Lalit Kumar Neupane of masterminding the scam. Thapa estimated that Nepalis globally have lost over Rs 700bn, leading to significant mental, social, and economic distress among the victims.

Victims of HyperFund regularly meet through Zoom to share their experiences and support each other, determined to raise public awareness about the scam. Kandel emphasized the need for cooperation from the Nepal Police and Nepali media to achieve justice and urged authorities to investigate potential illegal transactions.

Superintendent of Police Hobindra Bogati, spokesperson for the CIB of Nepal Police, reported that they have arrested Nanu Ghimire (aka Kajal) from Lalitpur, accused of orchestrating the fraud. The scammers lured victims through Zoom meetings, promising returns of over Rs 300,000 ($3,000) for a $1,000 investment, using blockchain technology to facilitate the fraud. The CIB has received complaints from 56 people, amounting to over $79.05m. Bogati urged victims to lodge complaints via the official CIB website, assuring that they will not be treated as defendants despite the illegal nature of the business.

The Nepal Rastra Bank, the central bank regulator, has declared all virtual currencies, cryptocurrencies (including stablecoins), network marketing, and HyperFund illegal in Nepal. Any involvement in such activities, including transactions, investments, and mining, is subject to legal action.