Fast talking and friendly, South Auckland woman Shelly Cullen claims to have made $154,000 in 11 days from cryptocurrency and is recruiting for a multi-level crypto-marketing scheme.
However, a Salvation Army lawyer and advisor believes it looks a lot like the pyramid schemes that plague some of New Zealand’s poorer communities.
Ronji Tanielu, who has strong links to South Auckland, said in his opinion the venture looked similar to several of the manipulative scams targeting vulnerable people in his area.
“We want them to make good decisions but that’s harder when all the options are bad options. The attraction in these schemes is a quick fix for complex social issues. It’s the same as Lotto and the TAB. It’s the quickest way to get happiness and help.
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“The most worrying thing is it’s using brown people to promote to brown people. I’m seeing a whole bunch of hatred towards white people but this is brown people preying on brown people.”
The Commerce Commission has received six complaints about Cullen or the schemes she is promoting and is considering an investigation.
A commission spokesman said pyramid schemes were prohibited under the Fair Trading Act but multi-level marketing schemes were not.
“The key difference is that multi-level marketing relies on selling products, while pyramid selling relies on introducing more and more people into the scheme.
“We urge consumers to see our website for advice about pyramid schemes. Only the few initial participants at the top of the pyramid are likely to make money, since the number of possible new recruits in any community is limited.”
Cullen, a former beneficiary and Kangen water entrepreneur, helps people invest in cryptocurrency with mainly $200 or $400 amounts. The scheme encourages members to earn extra currency by signing up other investors who then seek their own team members. Just one sign-up enables investors to recoup their initial investment, Cullen claims.
Investors are told they can convert the currency in their digital wallets to ordinary money with a Wirex card, a cloud-based banking platform that allows users to link their cryptocurrency digital wallets to Visa and MasterCard debit cards.
Cullen promotes two platforms – #Lions Share and Superone. Both operate on referrals, team work and multi-level marketing where commissions flow from the bottom to the top. Her team, the Lion Kings, is, she claims, the top earner in New Zealand and Australia.
“We create winners,” she boasts. “We roar.”
#Lions Share paid out $10 million in New Zealand in 14 days, she claims, but it does not appear to have a specific product and makes its money from registration fees.
In a recent video posted on her Facebook page, Cullen says she mentions her $154,000 profit not to boast but to inspire.
“I’m just like you,” she says. “I’m not a spendalicious person… anyone can do it.”
A lot of people appear to be “doing it” particularly in the Māori community in South Auckland and in Australia. One follower says Cullen is changing thousands of lives. Others think it’s a scam.
While the trappings of wealth don’t appear to have changed her life, Cullen claims her daughters, aged 16 and 17, who trade cryptocurrency on their own account, have leased an apartment and are living there.
She manages to support herself with cryptocurrency profits and is on IRD’s hot list, she says.
Her friendly Facebook posts show her eating at the same time as proselytising, and she is not averse to sharing personal details such as getting a Brazilian.
Cullen did not respond to requests to speak to Stuff.
But in her extensive online postings, Cullen emphasises the venture is not guaranteed and the thrust of her marketing is “risk is the new safe”.
“We’ve been playing too safe with own jobs. Risk can be a great option.”
Sceptics are condemned as haters and fearful, part of the system keeping people down.
Rātana Church minister Tokomira Aperahama, who is a stay-at-home dad looking after his eight children and sick wife, said he became involved in investing through Cullen, whom he described as a good teacher and guide.
He had spent about $300 to open his digital wallet and had recruited six others who had recruited another six each. He received a commission for each new member of his team.
“I’m the CEO, and they are all the CEO of their own businesses,’’ he said.
He had withdrawn money through his Wirex card to pay for groceries and medicine.
“For eight years we have lived a life of poverty. Now we have enough for food and medicine,” he said.
“She is pure,” he said of Cullen. “I can tell.”
Cullen was the expert and helped everyone invest in the right currencies. Thousands were benefiting, he said.
Earlier this year the Financial Markets Authority (FMA) and Commerce Commission launched a campaign to raise awareness of investment scams and pyramid schemes among Pacific communities in New Zealand.
FMA Director of Regulation Liam Mason said although scammers don’t discriminate, certain scams were aimed specifically towards Pacific communities.
“We saw the OneCoin pyramid scheme (a cryptocurrency fraud) proliferate through Pacific social and community groups.”