Anti-pyramid 'intervention' services see growth in China
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese people are hoaxed by pyramid schemes every year, lured by the promise of lucrative jobs or get-rich-quick business ventures.
Only when it's too late do they find themselves trapped in a cycle of begging for money to feed their commitments. Sometimes they are held hostage and unable to communicate with friends and family until they can buy themselves out of the scheme.
An anti-pyramid QQ group claims they can rescue victims. [Photo: Beijing Youth Daily]
Such schemes have hit the headlines in recent weeks with the discovery of the body of a young man in a pool of water in Tianjin, prompting an investigation into whether he was caught up in a scheme and unable to escape.
But there's a growing band of people who make it their business to save people from such a fate.
Liu Libing was deceived into joining a pyramid organization in Nanning, Guangxi Province in 2007. Fortunately, he managed to get out before it was too late. He later ganged together with several friends to form an organization that 'intervenes' in such schemes to rescue victims. For the service he charges up to 2,000 yuan (about 320 US dollars) a time. Some professional anti-pyramid services charge a lot more. But for the families of those stuck inside these companies, such services are their last hope.
Liu has no shortage of clients. With increased media coverage, he says the number of messages asking for help every day has soared from less than 10 to over 100.
He carries out a rescue about once a week, starting by identifying the victim's condition to dispatching members familiar with the organization, and saving the victim with the help of local police.
Families asking for help in an anti-pyramid QQ group. [Photo: Beijing Youth Daily]
Unlike Liu, Zhang Song (alias) in contrast regards saving the victims as a business in itself. He is a member of an anti-pyramid scheme association which was established four years ago. They charge up to 20,000 yuan for saving each person.
Liu Libing admits most of their efforts go unnoticed, although he believes it's the right thing to do. In order to save people, they are often required to go undercover as a member of pyramid organizations in order to deal with the perpetrators.
"We're afraid to tell our families what we do," says Liu. In addition, anti-pyramid organizations have to remain non-governmental because they cannot be registered with the authorities. "We wouldn't be able to survive as a non-profit organization."
Yi Shenghua, a lawyer in the Yingke Law Firm, believes active participation in an anti-pyramid organization should be encouraged despite their illegal status. Yi also points out that sometimes rescue attempts may end up with them breaking the law or causing accidental injury.