The Future Football Finance pyramid scheme was launched in July 2022, right before the World Cup. It targeted hundreds of clients who were promised high returns if they invested at least Ksh300 (About $2) each. By September, the scheme had reached its peak, offering rewards such as tickets to the World Cup, for referrals.
However, in October, the scheme disappeared leaving investors in a lurch. Its masterminds went completely silent leaving many victims struggling to come to terms with their financial losses. This investigation reveals the devastating impact that fraudulent schemes can have on unsuspecting individuals and highlights the importance of being vigilant and cautious while investing.
“Future Football Finance (FFF) has defrauded Kenyans of several millions and disappeared. Who will help us Kenyans? All admins of the WhatsApp groups have switched off their phones and blocked the groups for us not to communicate with each other,” reads a tweet tagging President William Ruto and Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria.
FFF’s mode of operation is similar to that of a previously flagged scam, LWE, and yet another- BLQ– in Uganda, which went silent on its clients by simply tweeting the words “I’m out” with a peace emoji. Consequently, FFF was not Frank Ong’era’s first rodeo.
Frank Ong’era, a student at the Kenya Medical Training College (KMTC) in Bomet County lost Ksh16,000 in the FFF scam. He explains to Piga Firimbi in a phone interview that he joined FFF in June 2022, hoping that by the time the World Cup began in November 2022, he’d have made a substantial amount from his Ksh20,000 investment.
“I have been in so many of these. I was part of Boldcashers, and another one called E-Ken which had the same format as FFF. So I said if it’s affordable, and World Cup was coming up in November, I could make some profit. But they suddenly shut down before that,” Frank said.
Frank introduced ten of his friends to FFF and even paid the deposit on their behalf because he would get a commission for each referral. One of his referrals, Caleb Mogusu, a friend of Frank’s from his hometown in Kisii County invested Ksh6,000.
Caleb, who joined in July 2022, told Piga Firimbi that he realised FFF was a scam in October when the organisers told them their accounts would be frozen because of tax issues. Shortly after this announcement, they went silent.
“It came to a point when they (FFF organisers) said KRA (Kenya Revenue Authority) is complaining that we are untaxed. They said our accounts were frozen because of that and we have to pay a certain amount for them to be unfrozen. We could not withdraw our money. So some of us were able to pay that amount, but no one responded. That’s how it went silent and died off.”- Caleb.
According to Frank, the FFF betting plan operated in form of reverse betting. The organizers would place impossible bets, which is how participants made money. If the scores happened as the organizers placed them, participants would not make profits.
FFF was a confidence scam, combining the traits of both a legitimate and a duplicitous business. Frank, for instance, told Piga Firimbi he was confident because FFF had offices in Kisumu, Kakamega, Mombasa, and the main office in Nairobi. He also said that there had been plans to open an office in Kisii before the company vanished. They would therefore attract both the gullible clients who are happy to participate in easy money-making schemes, as well as the facts-first, unsentimental users.
Besides the physical offices, FFF indeed had official registration documents, they would also hire professional models for their promotional content as well as establish a strong online presence but later divert communication to encrypted platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. Kenyan celebrities like actor Tyler Mbaya and musician Mejja also attracted more investors by promoting FFF on their platforms.
Potential investors would catch wind of FFF’s existence on Facebook, Twitter, or Telegram where FFF employed coordinated efforts to gain a wider reach. The posts invited participants to a sports betting initiative- a strategy that attracted masses especially since the World Cup 2022 was set to start a few months later in November. Facebook posts contained WhatsApp and Telegram links inviting participants to join FFF groups before they can start betting. Gradually, participants would be introduced to FFF’s multiple programs, and later lost their hard-earned money backed by dubious explanations like FFF’s tax compliance and in other groups FFF’s inability to pay rent for their offices.
Below are some of the red flags, Piga Firimbi could pick up from FFF’s operations;
- Future Football Finance had been exposed as a scam in Italy before
Twitter accounts connected to Future Football Finance began publishing tweets as early as January 2022, with dedicated accounts such as one called Future Football Finance -Tanzania created in January 2022 and another named Future Football Finance– this one with a more international outlook, created in July 2022, containing the initials ‘ofcl’ for official and a profile that reads; “UK’s First Football Investment Community”. A Tweetbeaver analysis revealed that these two accounts have ten common followers. An indication that the accounts are coordinated, and the same people were behind pushing FFF’s content. Another Twitter account showed that the program has footing in Italy, through its accounts dubbed Future Football Finance Italy, created in August 2022. It was however busted as a scam in Italy as revealed in an article published here, which also states that FFF was declared closed in Italy on October 31, 2022.
Piga Firimbi also spotted elements of inauthentic coordinated behaviour (CIB) on Italian Facebook posts that shared FFF’s web address. The evidence of coordination was apparent in the fact that multiple accounts used similar messaging technique, on posts made on the same day. See screen grab below.
- The Company Future Football Finance was registered in the UK on July 8, 2022 but at an address used by over 900 other companies
The company’s registered address: Floor 1, Office 25, 22 Market Square, London, United Kingdom, E14 6BU, is also the registered home to over 900 other active companies on the UK corporate register. All of them at “Office 25”.
Simon Bowers, a London-based journalist at Finance Uncovered told Piga Firimbi that FFF being a registered company in the UK barely means that it is involved in legitimate practices. “It means very little as it is easy to set up a UK company without checks or regulatory scrutiny,” he said.
For a financial services company based in the UK, FFF ought to be registered with the Financial Conduct Authority, but is not there despite being the self-proclaimed “first UK football hedge fund investment platform” as described on its YouTube channel.
- Name of FFF’s registered director, Christophe Dubois Nilla, is involved in dating scams
A Google search on Christophe Dubois Nilla, who is registered as the only person with significant control over the Future Football Finance company, brings up this passport, containing the same name connected to dating fraud. The passport photo is of Egyptian actor Ahmed Ezz, as found on one of the Italian news websites here.
The name Christophe Dubois Nilla has previously been used by different people for different scams. Complaints against different people going by this alias were lodged on the Romance Scambaiter website here.
Investigations by Italian news website, Decripto, found that the profile pictures used above are of Gonzalo Gomez, a Spanish racing driver (on the left) and Egyptian actor Ahmed Ezz (on the right). However, there are more cases when the name Christophe Dubois Nilla was used to represent a faceless person who would scam people online.
A screengrab from scambaiter, showing photos of different people going by the name Christophe Dubois Nilla.
- FFF officially registered in Kenya in September 2022, after already enrolling hundreds of victims online since July 2022
For instance, a Facebook post archived here invited the public to join an FFF WhatsApp group on July 31, 2022.
However, upon a more recent follow-up on FFF’s physical presence, such as its base in Nairobi’s CBD area, Piga Firimbi found that the company had moved out in September 2022. Daniel Ochieng Ogola, who is registered as the company’s local representative, told Piga Firimbi in a phone interview that he only helped to register the company in his capacity as a lawyer and could not comment further on FFF’s whereabouts recently.
As a general rule, however, the inclusion of a business on business registration services’ web pages is often not a recommendation, certification of legitimacy, or endorsement of the business by the government agency.
- FFF’s promotional material largely feature actors posing as company officials
Below are some of the models that Piga Firimbi could identify from this FFF video for instance;
Below are more examples:
In response to these findings, Kenny Onilogbo, the Casting Director at Fameworx Modeling Agency told Piga Firimbi via email that the agency is not connected to FFF, and that it is possible that their models were hired separately which happens in some cases. Kenny confirms that the models are indeed actors and not real FFF employees.
“We cannot really comment on the models’ participation if they have contracted them as actors like most clients do, this is not illegal. I can also confirm that we have never worked with this company and none of the models here are booked through our agency for this video so they may have booked them through another agency they are registered with so we have no involvement in this,” the email reads.
- FFF cemented its online presence by setting up different websites. All of which are now defunct, and none revealing the registrant’s identity
Besides running on social media platforms, Future Football Finance established various websites. These websites came in different domain names that are duplicates of each other or slightly different from each other, some tailored to suit the specific country.
A more official website, futurefootballfinance.com, was established shortly after the company’s registration, on July 13, 2022. This website was last active in September 2022.
Despite being a UK company, Piga Firimbi noticed that FFF’s online presence in Kenya and Tanzania had begun even before the company’s registration, and before other non-African countries. For instance, the Kenyan website futurefootballke.com was established on July 8, 2022. Similarly, the Twitter account dubbed Future Football Finance -Tanzania was created in January 2022. Pointing towards the possibility that preying on people from Kenya and Tanzania was part of the initiative’s original goal.
Besides futurefootballke.com, the domain names in Kenya came in different variations like fffke663.com registered on October 8, 2022 and futurefootballke3.com registered on July 9, 2022. All of which are now defunct. Below is data extracted on Gephi, proving that the URLs were amplified by coordinated efforts, via Facebook accounts that go by a similar name- Guadagnare.
- Moving clients to encrypted, dark web socials
According to Caleb, potential clients were directed to join a WhatsApp group. The facilitators of the group, according to Caleb, used foreign numbers.
Communication was intentionally moved to either WhatsApp or Telegram. These two are encrypted platforms that cannot be monitored by third-party participants or moderators, hence setting the perfect breeding ground for disinformation to go unchecked. This is also very uncharacteristic of a legitimate betting firm, according to Nate Kariuki, a Kenyan consultant on matters gaming, gambling and lotteries in Kenya.
“Why would I put up money to be accepted in a group? That’s the first red flag” Nate probed.
“Normally if you want to bet you bet. You go on any platform, register your name, telephone number and your ID number after which you will be given login credentials with your telephone number as the unique identifier and place your bet. You cannot register multiple betting accounts in one betting company. One ID one Betting account. Thereafter load your e-wallet via M-pesa and you can start betting. It’s very simple.”
Nate told Piga Firimbi that usually, it is the players that often go on to create their own WhatsApp group where they broadcast messages on games, winnings, bonuses and probably what the jackpots are. With FFF however, players would almost immediately be asked to join WhatApp groups.
“They were using that to reel in guys,” Nate said, “If you go to most betting companies, most of their Whatsapp is normally used to communicate or disseminate basic information. That’s if you have a query about your account or something. It’s like Safaricom’s Zuri. It is more or less just like interacting with customer care issues. But with FFF they were forming their own WhatsApp groups and Telegram groups”.
- A pyramid scheme, in the guise of football betting, with larger-than-life rewards
According to Nate, it is common for sports betting firms to offer affiliate programs in the form of pyramid schemes, by offering lifetime commissions ranging from 20-30% (varies from company to company) on future customers who are active participants on their platform. Hence those who make more money on these platforms are among the first to have joined them. Commissions are based on the profits the company will earn from individuals. Sportpesa’s Rafiki Bonus for instance earns participants Ksh100 for each new referral, the same rate as Odibets, while Betika offers Ksh49 per referral.
However, FFF would promise huge rewards ranging from world cup tickets to tablets and fridges for referrals.
A Gephi analysis reveals that FFF would primarily target betting enthusiasts on Facebook. See screengrab below;
An image Gephi analyses and an FFF Facebook Group’s history
While fronting as a football betting firm, FFF focused more on the pyramid scheme. Piga Firimbi found that they offered salaries to clients who brought in new investors. See screengrab below.
Additionally, FFF had a higher minimum deposit rate- upwards of Ksh300 to Ksh2,000- in order to participate. An exorbitant amount in comparison to the minimum deposit required for common betting sites, like SportsPesa which has a minimum deposit of Ksh10, Ksh15 for Odibets and Betika.
“It’s just a different aspect of multilevel marketing whereby they use sports betting as a way of enticing people,” Nate told Piga Firimbi. “Scamming has evolved,” he cautioned, noting that similar scams are on the rise, although betting, if done responsibly via legitimate platforms, can be profitable.
Reporting such scams is often a wild goose chase. Frank told Piga Firimbi that together with other FFF victims, they reported the case but police asked them to pay Ksh45,000 for the case to proceed.
To avoid falling prey to betting scams, below are characteristics of a legitimate betting firm in Kenya;
It is registered with the Betting Control and Licensing Board (BCLB). The list is on the BCLB website Here, which currently contains 105 betting firms, under the Bookmakers category.
It contains a BCLB registration number on its website, usually indicated at the bottom of the webpage.
The minimum deposit is usually as low as Ksh5, with a maximum of about Ksh100.
A legitimate betting firm wouldn’t make you communicate on WhatsApp or elsewhere. All information would be available on their websites or social media platforms.
Legitimate betting firms offer affiliate programs where individuals earn a lifetime commission ranging from 20-30% (varies from company to company) on future customers they would refer. Be apprehensive of sites that promise huge commissions. This commission is normally based on the profits the company will earn from such individuals.
By Linda Ngari
This article was produced with mentorship from the African Academy for Open Source Investigations (AAOSI), to tackle disinformation that undermines our democracies, as part of an initiative by the International Centre for Journalists (ICFJ) and Code for Africa (CfA). Visit disinfo.africa for more information.
Republished in agreement with the author and publishers.