New Zealand victims of US-based internet pyramid scam SkyBiz.com may still qualify for a payout from a US$20 million ($27.94 million) fund thanks to an extension to the date for claims, the Commerce Commission says.
The original date for claims of July 31, 2004, has been extended indefinitely for the foreseeable future, Commerce Commission director of fair trading Deborah Battell said.
She encouraged consumers who invested in SkyBiz.com and had not yet made a claim to do so. They should visit www.skybiz-redress.com for more information on the fund, including how to make a claim.
"It is most unusual to be compensated after being misled into such schemes," Ms Battell said.
The redress fund followed a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States in 2003. The FTC put together a comprehensive programme to encourage consumers from around 30 countries to submit claims.
The SkyBiz scheme involved the sale of website programmes or "WebPaks", and the commission understands more than 13,000 of the products were sold in New Zealand.
Individuals were recruited over the internet to promote the sale of WebPaks, with vast profits promised. New recruits were required to sell WebPaks to at least two others in order to qualify to receive compensation.
However, further down the line sales of at least nine WebPaks were required before the recruit was eligible to receive compensation.
The FTC pursued the international SkyBiz company in the courts of Ireland and Bermuda and assisted law enforcement agencies in Canada, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The Commerce Commission also liaised closely with the FTC, and prosecuted one of the New Zealand promoters.
Ms Battell reminded consumers not to get involved where there is a hint of a pyramid scheme.
"These schemes are becoming more sophisticated and it is harder for consumers to detect that they are in fact pyramid selling schemes. These are specifically prohibited by the Fair Trading Act because of the risk of people being misled about potential financial gain," she said.
"Consumers should be extremely wary if they are asked to sign up to schemes that involve two main aspects: promises of considerable future returns; and where signing up other people appears to be more important than the product or service being sold."
Consumers should always consider getting professional independent advice before investing in any scheme, she said.
"They should not rely on statements from people who claim to have made money from the scheme. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
In March 2003, Gregory Ian Dawson was fined $4500 plus $1630 costs in Auckland District Court having pleaded guilty to breaching the Fair Trading Act in relation to his involvement in the SkyBiz scheme between 1999 and 2001.