Smartphone financial pyramids – examples of major fraud in Russia

In memory of the death of Sergei Mavrodi, we recall the large fraudulent schemes in Russia, which attracted attention due to cheap smartphones.

Smartphone financial pyramids - examples of major fraud in Russia

Sergei Mavrodi, the creator of Russia's largest financial pyramid, MMM, died on March 26, and has affected more than 10 million people. I will not talk about whether he is a bad person or not, whether he himself organized the pyramid or it is someone's project, and I will not raise other questions. His example perfectly shows how one person can cause great damage to a country, so that 'MMM' will definitely be remembered for a long time.

Despite the scale of the 'MMM' campaign, new pyramids are still emerging and some of them are generating large profits. Therefore, I consider it important to recall other examples of financial pyramids, but related to the theme of our site.

For some reason, all large modern pyramids use only iPhones as bait, there are no such fraudulent schemes with Samsung flagships or smartphones from other companies. In total, in Russia, I found four large examples of pyramids with smartphones Apple, one of which happened quite recently.

The first pyramid of 'iPhones' in Russia

In the summer of 2011, a 44-year-old resident of Moscow began to tell friends and acquaintances about his connections at customs in the Northwestern Federal District. He offered to use his acquaintances to buy confiscated iPhone and iPad at a price well below the market average. Interfax did not specify which smartphone model the man was offering, but most likely it was iPhone 4. The fraudster offered to buy a 'confiscated' smartphone for 15,000 rubles – about half the price of the official recommended price in Russia.

To purchase iPhone with such a discount, it was necessary to make a full prepayment. He quickly collected the first wave of orders and bought a batch of smartphones, but he bought them not from customs officers, but in the Mitinsky market in Moscow. To do this, he had to deposit his own money. But he was able to earn trust and the first customer base, then the system worked through word of mouth.

Three months later, the man reached a turnover of several tens of millions of rubles. All this time, he continued to collect money for smartphones and buy them at a higher price in stores and markets. Traditionally, with the increase in the number of participants in the pyramid, there was not enough money for the purchase iPhone at an inflated price for everyone. Therefore, gradually the creator of the pyramid stopped giving devices on pre-orders and in December 2011 did not respond to messages and calls from customers.

Then everything is as usual: the first statements to the police, the search and arrest of the fraudster. The pyramid creator testified and admitted to cheating customers.

Damage: more than 20 million rubles.


Against the backdrop of the first pyramid of iPhones in Russia, a more global fraudulent scheme was launched – BigBuzzy. She worked according to the traditional 'MMM' scheme, on a special website at the end of 2011 they launched a very lucrative sale offer iPhone 4S at a price of 19,990 rubles – it was cheaper than buying a smartphone in Apple Store even without tax and shipping or flight costs.

The BigBuzzy service had been operating for several years before and, according to various estimates, was one of the top 5 largest coupon sites in Russia. It is difficult to say how honestly the company worked before, because among the reviews it is impossible to understand which of the people is writing the truth. But there were many reasons for suspicion.

Smartphone financial pyramids - examples of major fraud in Russia

Screenshot of BigBuzzy website. Source:

It is important to understand that the BigBuzzy site was not selling goods, but coupons that can be exchanged for goods – such conditions were under the agreement. Reminds the story of vouchers. Also, representatives of the company talked about ties with one of the operators of the Big Three, so that all smartphones will allegedly be imported officially and will receive a guarantee for repairs. Although none of the operators have confirmed this.

At the same time, potential customers had an airbag – money can be returned at any time. However, there is one small but important condition – the money is returned only to the account of the BigBuzzy website, and not to the bank card account. That is, you can withdraw money only by purchasing other coupons on the site.

Despite the incredible price and dubious reputation of the site, more than 7 thousand people bought coupons for a brand new iPhone 4S. Buyers were supposed to receive their smartphones on November 25, 2011, then the start of sales was postponed to December. As a result, only a few people were sent iPhone, although this fact is also in doubt, and the remaining several thousand customers were left without a device and money, but only with a coupon. The deceived buyers began to write applications.

In October 2012, BigBuzzy filed a bankruptcy petition with the Moscow Arbitration Court, but none of the representatives appeared in court and the case was closed. They were declared bankrupt only in 2014.

I recommend reading on Eldar Murtazin's blog an interview with one of the founders of such a coupon business and comments on exposing articles about BigBizzy — now it's funny to read a lot of 'satisfied customers' reviews that talk about incredible benefits without proof.

Damage: 140 million rubles, if we assume that all 7,000 people bought coupons and could not exchange them for devices.

Sales American Store

The first pyramid with iPhones was not as big as SAS. According to various sources, Sales American Store was created in 2012-2013. At first, it was a small company that offered to buy iPhone 5S and other devices of large brands on average 30% cheaper than in Russia. Then the company grew to incredible proportions.

Even at the start of its work, SAS looked like an ordinary store of 'gray' equipment. They said that they buy operator devices in the United States, unblock them from being tied to an operator, if it is a smartphone, and resell them with a small margin. For that time, this was the standard scheme for saving on technology, so nothing aroused suspicion among ordinary users.

Smartphone financial pyramids - examples of major fraud in Russia

The site gained particular popularity in 2014 on pre-orders iPhone 6 at a price of 19,990 rubles. There is information that the service was even advertised in the Moscow metro, but I did not find confirmation. But it is known for sure that SAS was advertised by the famous TV presenter Ksenia Borodina in her 'Instagram'.

Traditionally, to purchase iPhone with a discount, you need to make a full prepayment and wait several weeks. But when it was time for delivery, the SAS site and the VKontakte community with 150,000 users were shut down. The victims tried to return the money through the bank, but were only refused. The police also refused to initiate criminal proceedings against many.

A little later, the police detained the CEO of SAS, but the further development of events is unknown.

Damage: according to the criminal case, the scam was estimated at 30 million rubles. But other estimates put SAS's total debt at $ 244 million.

New pyramid

In March 2018, Mash reported on another pyramid, but not as public as the others. Another man told friends and acquaintances that he had connections with someone from the company Apple. This gave him access to the purchase of devices at half the price of Russian prices. He proposed a joint business: in exchange for contacts, he asked for money for smartphones, tablets and laptops. Then it was possible to sell the product together at a premium.

So the man collected about 100 million rubles, and then disappeared. The victims began to write statements, but there is a difficulty – such cases are usually not considered separately, and there was no class action. The fate of the creator of the next pyramid and the victims is unknown.

In fact, this is not quite a standard pyramid scheme – the man did not buy devices for the first wave of participants, but immediately withdrew all the money from the system. But in terms of other parameters, it resembles the classic financial pyramid.

Damage: 100 million rubles.

What is the result

'MMM' is a long time ago, but the pyramids are still relevant today. I think about examples of such a scheme can and should be told so that in the future fewer people will trust scammers. Because sometimes the desire to earn extra money or save money can turn into a collapse, even for an experienced person.

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