Although the craze over the social networking game FarmVille is over, that didn’t stop 25-year-old Mehmet Aydin from realizing there was still money to be made on virtual farms. Known as Ciftlik Bank in Turkish, Aydin marketed Farm Bank to be a “win as they play, and have fun as they win” game. At first telling users that they were investing real-world money to care for virtual animals, Farm Bank also offered them the opportunity to earn money back on their so-called investments in return for keeping the virtual animals alive.
The scheme gained popularity how most do. Family and friends claimed to have earned large returns on their investments and others flocked to do the same. Of course, users would also receive a cut of the profit for recruiting new players to Farm Bank. The game’s userbase quickly grew, drawing in 50,000 players in eight months. The marketing for Farm Bank profited from the declining agricultural industry in Turkey, which was once a large part of their economy. Aydin pledged to build the largest dairy farm in Europe, and with the growing importation of goods, citizens of Turkey saw not only a fun game but opportunity for their country.
Farm Bank was not Aydin’s first business venture. Before his Ponzi scheme, he rapped under the name Egoman and also sold glasses he claimed to show people naked.
The business model grew and morphed as different avenues of income were discovered. Along with the virtual animals, Aydin held grand openings for real farms displaying actual livestock. Deli locations and franchises were then opened to sell Farm Bank branded products, implying they were from the livestock players invested in. These franchises cost approximately $30,000 (100,000 lira) to open, and over time a total of 100 deli locations existed across Turkey. Aydin also escaped paying Turkish taxes by setting up a shell company for Farm Bank in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus with approximately $14 million (50 million lira). Through this, he funneled the money overseas and received round-the-clock transactions from players.
Over time, players saw less and less returns on their investments. In total, Turkish players paid $300 million into the game, only seeing approximately $130 million repaid. Aydin then fled with the money, originally to Uruguay where he planned to hide before fleeing to Brazil after being spotted. On July 1, 2021, Aydin surrendered to the Turkish embassy in Sao Paulo after fearing for his life as some of his victims offered a reward by asking for him “dead or alive.”
More than 1,000 cows were seized through the course of the investigation along with other company assets. The indictment now includes 3,672 complainants and 48 suspects. Prosecutors are seeking 75,000 years of jail time on charges of establishing and running an illegal organization, fraud and money laundering. In the most recent court hearing, Aydin read aloud a written statement, insisting the criminal organization allegations would not stand, as his operations were “trade,” as well as stating if the funds that were seized were returned to him, he would repay all of the victims. There is no set date for future hearings.
SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners