Friday, February 16, 2007
7 News Investigations: Secret Circle
Only women are allowed, but, ladies, don't let your guard down. The promise of quick cash could leave you out big bucks. The Nightteam's Patrick Fraser explains in his special assignment report, "Secret Circle."
WSVN -- Shirley thought she had found a nice way to make a few dollars.
Shirley: "It's real easy-- you put in a thousand dollars and you get, eight back."
For Audria it seemed like an answer to a prayer.
Audria: "I'm buying a house. This will be good, you know, within three months I can get $6,000 for my thousand."
Women are joining what's called a Women's Gifting Circle.
Shirley: "It was basically a woman's group -- no men, only females."
Audria: "I saw it as an opportunity to make a little extra money among Christian women."
But, of course, it's those good honest women who wind up getting ripped off.
Audria: "I lost $1,750."
Shirley: "Just give me the thousand dollars I came here with."
Patrick Fraser: "It's an old scam with a new twist. Old, in that it's a pyramid scheme. The new members come in, pay their money, and it flows to the person at the top. The new twist: The Women's Gifting Circle not only allows women to join but promises the women will help other women make a lot of money."
Shirley: "They even put bible verses and everything to make it seem like we were actually helping a woman. It was a woman's group."
Shirley was led to believe the members were carefully chosen.
A brochure reading: "You have been invited to join a community of remarkable women," which has "discovered a way to help each of us fulfill our dreams."
Audria: "I was excited because it was something that I thought was honest, and that I thought was easy to do, less work."
The pamphlet for Shirley and Audria's group even looks like a pyramid.
Women getting together at what's referred to as a dinner table.
Four women join as an appetizer. As they bring in their paying friends, they move to soup, then entree, and, when it's your turn to be dessert, you collect thousands from the new members joining.
"Whoever is the dessert at the time, these eight people are paying her."
Sounded delicious to Shirley but despicable to consumer advocates.
Leonard Elias: "These private clubs are illegal, and that's why they're a mystery."
Elias says one thing about the Women's Gifting Circle is very obvious, though -- the women joining will wind up losing their money.
Leonard Elias: "The leaders in this type of operation are preying on the very people they're trying to benefit, and that's the working women."
And the organizers are succeeding in South Florida because they are able to keep it hidden from law enforcement.
We called the FBI, local police, the state attorney -- none had heard about this Women's Gifting Circle, in part because members are told, 'Keep it a secret.'
Shirley: "We have to be secretive, they don't like media attention because they're sometimes mistaken as the pyramid."
By the time Shirley and Audria moved from entree to dessert, it had become clear they would not clean up. The organizers had taken their thousands and moved on to find a new group of victims.
Audria: "Once I tried to get in contact with her I couldn't get in contact with her on the phone."
But while the scammers are looking for new victims, the Florida attorney is now going to start looking for them.
Cindy Guerra: "Attorney general Bill McCollum feels that it is an illegal activity that should be stopped and has to be stopped, and if you don't report, we can't do anything about it. But if you do report, it's something we can investigate, and we can put a stop to it."
Put a stop to it before more dreams are destroyed.
Audria: "In the end, it hurt my children, it hurt my family, it hurt my future."
They all got hurt by crooks, luring women with the promise of helping other women.
Audria: "This is not real, and it's a scam. 23:49 I got scammed."
A Women's Gifting Circle that is nothing more than a secret circle, hiding crooks.
Both Audria and Shirley have agreed to file complaints with the Attorney General's Office. They are hoping other women will also come forward.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Florida Attorney General
Toll Free within Florida: 1-866-966-7226
Crimes of Persuasion Website: