BANGKOK — Police are on the hunt for a woman suspected to be at the head of a large-scale pyramid scheme that allegedly scammed hundreds of people out of billions of baht.
Police Maj. Gen. Maitree Chimched of the Economic Crime Suppression police said Tuesday that court has issued an arrest warrant for Wantanee “Mae Manee” Tippaveth, 28, and her boyfriend, Metee Chinpa, 20, whom police suspected to have caused up to 10 billion baht in damages.
“Just from interrogating 20 people, the damage is around 35 million baht,” Police Col. Padol Jandorn said.
Wantanee and Metee were charged with fraud-related crimes and breaking the Computer Crime Act, after more than 120 people complained to the Udon Thani police Monday that they were defrauded by Wantanee’s pyramid scheme. Most of Wantanee’s victims are stay-at-home wives looking for extra income.
Wantanee is a Udon Thani and Bangkok-based internet idol who allegedly solicited people to invest money in her business and get a 93 percent profit. To shore up her credibility, she would post photos of her glamorous lifestyle on social media, such as photos of her rubbing elbows with celebrities, and claim to be a producer on many TV shows.
Similar to the Airplane Game pyramid scheme popular in the 1980s America, Wantanee would ask people to pool in money and reap returns after she or her downline found enough people to invest in the game.
Most would start off with a 1,000 baht “investment,” which she claimed would go to her cosmetics and film business endeavors. By the next month, they were told, they would get 1,930 baht in return.
Police said some victims deposited as much as millions of baht in such “investment,” but Wantanee never paid back their yields, citing reasons like bank transfer delays. One person allegedly lost 6 million baht to her, and others have told the media that some victims were so distraught from monetary loss they committed suicide.
Before Wantanee shut down her Facebook Tuesday, victims and netizens were brigading her page against her downline and investors who still believed they would get their money back.
She maintained that she was innocent in posts on Facebook Tuesday: “Jail is for people who aren’t fighters, and I’m a fighter … I never abandoned everyone, and I’m not how the news says I am. I’m the victim of slander, attacks, and silencing threats here. … I’ve never done wrong by anyone. My lawyers will keep working.