The Onfia, or the Online Mafia



The phenomenon of mafia has appeared online in various forms. Some are flagrant and others not so insidious. To understand why I liken it to the mafia, we must know what that organization is.

What is the mafia?
The mafia is a secret criminal organization engaged in illegal activities such as blackmailing, gambling, drug-dealing, protection and prostitution. A tightly knit group of trusted associates, the mafia is said to primarily practice protection racketeering (the use of violent intimidation to manipulate local economic activity), especially illicit trade. Being bonded together by a code of honour, in particular the code of silence (or omertĂ  in southern Italy), protects the Mafia from outside intrusion and the law.

Now, what has the mafia got to do with online work?
While the online mafia does not operate in exactly the same way as the offline one, there are similarities in their modus operandi.

I would call this online group the onfia and define it as a secret and often open criminal and sometimes seemingly legal group engaged in illegal and mostly unethical activities such as scamming, perjury, trickery, non-existent client service, fraud, unscrupulousness,  greed, double standards, self-importance or bumptiousness, extortion and virus-propagation.

A tightly knit group of trusted associates, the online mafia primarily practices group business—the sharing of sensitive information among themselves to manipulate working on the computer and online business activity, especially affiliate or multi level marketing work. Being bonded together by a code of alliance, in particular the code of mutual sharing of business information first, this safeguards the onfia from outside competition.

I will use my own experiences to explain these phenomena.

Scamming
The term scamming is slang for defrauding or swindling, and is often used to describe fraudulent internet business schemes. This type of trickery involves gaining someone else’s possessions or money under false pretences.

I started my online work with brokerage activities back in the early nineties. I engaged in the trading of petroleum products (crude oil, diesel, jet fuel, etc.), fertilizer, rice, sugar, cement and other big boys’ commodities where one could make huge commissions.

With the aid of online portals such as alibaba, ec21, indiamart, etc., I looked for suppliers and buyers of these products and put them in contact with each other. I realized many people will tell you they had products to sell and even send you POP (Proof of Products) documents which turn out to be non-existent or falsified. This was especially true of Nigerian 419 princes with Bonny Light Crude Oil offers.

Scamming now has to do with the stealing of passwords and identity theft where hackers steal credit card details and similar documents of online workers.

Alternatively known as the Nigeria scam, the schemers pretend that they have gained, inherited or have right to a large amount of money and all they need are banking coordinates to deposit the money with the recipient who is promised a big commission. Once the unsuspecting victim agrees, they ask them for a small deposit to bribe bank officials to have their cooperation for the transfer. If the person pays, they come back and ask for a higher amount for officials of the Ministry of Finance who must okay the transaction. Then for the Governor of the Central Bank, etc., until the victim is bled dry. See the 419 definition for additional information.

Perjury
If getting a real product in my brokerage activity was a problem, finding genuine buyers was another. People will present themselves as buyers and then tell all sorts of stories when asked for POF (Proof of Funds).

In sales transactions, POP should generally precede POF but you would find buyers who first accept this principle and later claim the contrary.

Once I proposed Nigerian Bonny Light Crude Oil to a Canadian refinery who found out that the POP sent was real but the product had been sold long before. The CEO threatened to sue me for perjury. I also threatened to sue the company for contacting a third party for information on the product without my prior knowledge, what was prohibited by the NCND (Non-Circumvention Non-Divulgation) agreement we had signed. In fact, this was a bluff but it worked and saved me!  

Trickery
There was a case I found a real American supplier of rapeseed bio fuel who I put in contact with an Asian buyer. Preliminary talks went well and even the buyer had approved the sample. Then silence ensued from both sides. When I enquired, the buyer said the seller couldn’t furnish POP and the seller said the buyer it was rather the buyer who had no funds for the operation. I suspected both were using tricks to avoid me getting a commission, especially when they cut off communication with me.

You may wonder why I didn’t safeguard my side? I had. With an NCND agreement. But with parties I only knew online and so many miles away from me, how was I to know what was really going on?

Non-existent customer service
Tired, I switched over to blogging. An American company offered me training to create my blog on blogger.com. One of their conditions of sales was after-sales service. But when a problem cropped up and I needed solutions, they never answered my queries. This was in stark contrast to before buying their product when all my queries received prompt answers.

Fraud
From blogging, I discovered affiliate networking. People are made to believe that they only need to sign up and they would make money. Not having much time because of my teaching job, this really appealed to me. I invested in many of them (what online workers call one shiny object after the other) and only lost money.

Linked to these are gurus—people who create networks or teams and tell you to join and receive the number of referrals to let you make money. You join their networks and end up paying monthly dues and waiting and waiting in vain for your turn to receive your downlines.

I realized that people offering online affiliate networking work were more interested in using newbies (new internet marketers) to build their networks (downlines) than in helping them to succeed and make money. 

Unscrupulousness
A similar case to the above are dishonest uplines. I had one who asked me to participate in coop advertising costs and other forms of promotion being organized by the group leader. Surprised at not getting any leads, I contacted the leader only to learn he didn’t know anything about those advertisement efforts.

Then came teams. I joined a group which promised to fight against the above system by first creating a team and when we had enough members all of us will join a business and make money. Since I wouldn’t have to wait for downlines to make money, this suggestion appealed to me.

Once we had over one thousand members, the administrators brought in a business which many of us eagerly joined. Then surfaced difficulties of signing in to our back offices. The admins assured us the company was working hard to solve the problem. Days passed and some impatient members left. Hard remarks began to appear in the group room posts.

One day I needed to contact the leader. To my stupefaction, he had removed himself from the group and from Facebook. It was when I asked the second leader where the first was that he realized what had happened. The second leader also unceremoniously left the group which is still hanging there on Facebook.

However, before disappearing into thin air, the first leader had added many of us to a new group. Things were better here. Soon the admins introduced a business. The top people—made up mainly of the administrators, their families and friends—started making money. The rest of us waited and hoped and before we knew everything stalled. Discontent set in among the members who expressed it in no uncertain terms. Soon infighting broke out among the admins; then the group dislocated.

Most of the admins left and created their own groups. Some of us followed those we trusted. Everything was going fine. Then all of a sudden one of the leaders of a group said she was the only one doing all the hard work and members were doing little to nothing. This was true. But what most of us noticed was that she brought this matter up only after our numbers and efforts had buoyed her business up and now that she was making money she could afford to dump us. And this she did, by asking everybody to promote their own links. 

Something similar happened in another leader’s group I had joined. The leader had assured us that those participating in the group would receive top positions in the business he would bring us. Assured, we worked hard to grow the team and create awareness about it by posting in Facebook and other social sites. As soon as the group went viral, the admin announced a good matrix program. It took some time for some of us to receive links to sign up. It was when people started making money we realized they had first enrolled themselves and their friends and family members we never saw in the group.

Greed
You see greed at work especially in businesses where people are making huge sums or are susceptible of doing so. The various leaders as well their members will approach you to join their team to succeed faster in such and such a company. When you tell them you are already in that company and in a team other than theirs, they would ask you to leave that team, write to the company that you were no longer interested in continuing with them and they will delete your name. Then you use a different username and email address to sign up.  

Another case is when you bring people into a group for a business, then other members private message them to join them rather because they have a larger group which can make them succeed earlier.

Another example of cross-solicitation is when people contact you with the systems of a company and propose that you join them in another company.

Double standards
Another unethical behaviour of the onfia is what I call double standards. You suggest to your Facebook friends to join your business and they tell you they aren’t interested. Then they go online, find out about it and sign up with someone else. This often happens with businesses in pre-launch and especially with those where a sponsor is needed to sign up. These “friends” prefer to join leaders they know and with whom they think they can succeed quicker since they can benefit from spillovers and spillunders.

Self-importance or bumptiousness
This concerns leaders whose links I joined eagerly and with whom I was acquainted. But when I found an interesting business and sent them the link to join, they replied they would never join anyone’s link; but many times they simply ignored my message.

Extortion
I observed this mainly with advertising. People claim that they could earn you leads, prospects or buyers. You pay, send them your ads and see nothing at the end of the promotion period. They tell you nobody can assure you with advertising that there will be results.

Virus-propagation.
Everybody, but none more so than online workers, using the internet is exposed to virus attacks from unscrupulous people.

Online work succeeds best with networking. Some unscrupulous people profit from this and send you links to check one thing or the other. Unsuspectingly you do this and realize you have been sent a virus.

People claim these viruses are sent by manufacturers and sellers of anti-virus programs to oblige computer users to buy their products. Russians are mainly indexed here but it is believed that this is the modus operandi of most of anti-virus software suppliers.

Trial or free anti-virus programs can also spread viruses. At the end of the trial period, the supplier sends you a message to buy the product. People claim that when you don’t, they send you viruses to oblige you to buy to save your computer from crashing. The free programs are also said to send you viruses so that you look to buy their paid programs which offer better virus coverage. 

Lessons learnt
With each bad experience, I learn a lesson which obliges me to change direction.  

Scamming, Perjury and Trickery
Since stopping brokerage activities involving trading of big boys’ commodities where huge commissions are promised, I have been saved from scamming, perjury and trickery.

Besides, I systematically delete any message coming from Nigerian scammers or similar ones containing promises of fabulous gains without any work.

Non-existent customer service
Right now, an agency is investigating a company which recently failed to refund me for poor advertising services. So, instead of engaging in useless correspondence with rogue companies, I report them to anti-fraud agencies in their countries.

Fraud
Now that I know trustworthy internet marketers (those with ethical working methods and/or help their downlines), I only join programs in which they participate.   

Unscrupulousness
These days I ask my uplines for places where I can advertise for good results.

Concerning teams, I join only those which are functioning well and at the head of which is a known leader in the multi-level marketing world. I also read the group posts to see if no hard sentiments were being expressed about the leaders. I feel at ease where I find the members full of praise for the leader(s).

Greed
When somebody tells me to leave a team and the same company in which we are and rejoin that company with his team or when they private message me to join them rather because they have a larger group which can make me succeed earlier, I tell them it is an unethical behaviour and I couldn’t trust somebody like them making such a suggestion. This makes them disappear quickly from your path. 

Double standards
When Facebook friends to whom I suggest a business tell me they aren’t interested and turn around and join someone else in the same business, I simply unfriend them.

Self-importance or bumptiousness
I no longer join businesses proposed by leaders who refuse to join my links without reason or ignore my messages in that regard.

Extortion
The lesson I have learnt here is join a group if you must but don’t depend on anyone to build your business.

Virus-propagation.
I don’t click on links sent by people I don’t know well.

Trial or free anti-virus programs are another no-go area, unless they were coming from credible sources like McAfee.

These are the setbacks I have had online and how they have taught me. And you, what are your experiences with the online mafia and what lesson(s) have you learnt from them?

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