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Sou Sou: Friend or Foe?

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By Alicia Chamely

 

A favourite past time of mine is imagining all the things I would do if I was some sort of hardened crime lord with no conscience and a non-existent moral code.

Recently I began pondering how I would handle a Sou Sou Pyramid Scheme or Blessings Circle. How I too could end up with millions of dollars hidden around my house.

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Simple really, I would lure people in with the promises of huge profits on their investments. For simplicity let’s say I get ten suckers to give me a $1,000 each as an initial investment. This now gives me $10,000 cash in hand. I take this money and buy a good block of pure cocaine. I then cut this cocaine with expired baby formula, double it and sell it. I now have $20,000; I take a personal loss the first month and give everyone back their initial $1000 plus the $1000 in profit.

They can’t believe it! Minds have been blown! So they go out and tell their family, friend, coworkers and so on. Now I have an ever bigger pool of suckers, I can buy even more cocaine and the ability to keep a good chunk of the profits.

I keep doing this for a while, slowly reducing the “interests” on people’s initial investments until I’ve made enough money to buss it up the islands and live very comfortably. Then with my bags packed and placed on my private yacht headed to where ever the F I want, I send a WhatsApp to my investors:

“Dear Blessed Friends,

The Pyramid has collapsed and unfortunately your money has been lost (sad face emoji).

You all knew the risk. I’m not here for your tears. Sleep well with your life decisions.

Xoxo,

Golden Gyaliss 99 (my scammer name nah)”

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Now while this is ridiculously hypothetical, in recent times we have seen a series of these sou sou pyramids/ blessings become tainted by criminality.

In August the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) put out a release warning people against investing in these schemes. Everyone stuesped and two weeks later 1,272 were left penniless after the Blessings Circle “Blessings Overflow” crashed.

Dayyyyyyuuuuuummmm.

Fast forward to this past week where police raided a La Horquetta home to find close to $22 million cash hidden around the house.

The money was allegedly connected to a sou sou pyramid. As usual justice was only partially served – the money was returned, Gary got vex and life moves on.

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The use of the term “sou sou” in these cases is particularly bothersome to me.

A sou sou in its purest form is an informal cooperative money saving system, by which participants contribute a set amount either fortnightly or monthly to the “pot”. The holder of the pot is rotated, so everyone eventually gets the total savings. They get is no more or no less than the money they themselves would have contributed over the lifespan of the sou sou.

Sou sou pyramids, which I will admit I had never heard of before but thanks to some research, aren’t as nefarious as they sound. They are essentially “investment clubs”. The person who starts it will often take the money and invest it. Normally investment is done in the form of buy and sell for profit, rather than stocks or business deals. Therefore the participants will receive their initial payouts and part of the profit determined on how much they invest initially.

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There really isn’t anything wrong in this. It’s like if I get my friends to all pool in to buy a lot of land, then I sell the land and everyone gets their money back, plus their share of the profit. So we go again, adding a few more people, buying more land, cars, whatever, selling for a profit and sharing that profit.

All the money was obtained legally and can be accounted for if those calculator warriors at the FIU come knocking.  Receipts…are vital.

Unfortunately, because there is always some greedy piece of cow dung waiting to prey on people, especially in challenging financial times such as these, sou sou and other no- formal financial plans are now being seen in an rather unflattering light.

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I personally do not believe the FIU or the Government is out to destroy sou sous to further oppress particular segments of the population, I think they are trying to hinder those who use the “investment” money to fund drugs and guns.

That’s the biggest problem with sou sou that involve any investment. You cannot guarantee what your money is being used for, where your profits are coming from and how long it is all going to last before it comes crashing down.

You cannot try to outlaw sou sou either, as it’s beyond unconstitutional to tell people what to do with their money.

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All we can be is cautious. If a sou sou is offering a ridiculously high return on your initial investment, but only if you bring two other people with you, it probably won’t end well. If the sou sou is being advertised on social media or WhatsApp and you do not personally know or even seen the pot holder, take your money elsewhere.

Keep it communal, keep it among friends and family, the promises of riches might not be as high, but you know at the end of the day you will get your money. And since you know everyone contributing to the pot if someone tries to be a smart man,  you and the rest of your sou sou posse can share onto him a little rough up and no money loss.

Sou sou is deeply rooted in Trinbagonian culture; it was designed to help foster financial independence and control. It allowed for everyone to experience a little windfall and help strengthen the bonds of community.

So it saddens me to see that a few greedy tricksters have taken something once so beneficial to others and demonised it.

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