AS a Penangite, I am always asked by my colleagues and friends in the Klang Valley why is it that most get-rich-quick schemes are located in the island state and the investors mostly its citizens.
I have asked that same question myself, since I’ve heard enough stories of relatives and friends who have been entangled in this web of financial crookery.
It’s not something new. It used to be called the pyramid scheme and Ponzi but, like most, it is just another scam. The new term is ‘money game’ and it’s probably called this to warn new participants that there will be winners and losers, like in any other game.
However, no one is listening because most people are merely interested in the quick returns from their investments.
There are some reasons why Penang lang (Hokkein for people) have warmed up to these quick-rich con jobs.
Penang is a predominantly Chinese state and rightly or wrongly, the appetite for risk there is higher. Some may dismiss risk as a euphemism for gambling, but the bottom line is, many of its denizens are prepared to roll the dice.
Given that there are so few police reports lodged against operators, despite the huge number of investors, indicates the readiness of these players to try their luck.
They clearly are aware of the element of risk involved when they lay their money down, but the huge returns override any rational thinking. No risk, no gain, they probably tell themselves.
Making police reports against operators also runs the risk of “investors” getting their money stuck if the accounts of the scammers are frozen.
Risk-taking is nothing new to many Penangites. This is a state with a horse-racing course and plenty of gaming outlets. Is it any surprise then that a spat is currently playing out between politicians over allegations that illegal gaming outlets are thriving there?
One politician believes the state government does not have the authority to issue gambling licences and “to single out Penang also ignores the fact that gambling is under the Federal Government’s jurisdiction. We don’t issue such licences.”
It’s bizarre because no one issues permits to illegal gaming outlets. That’s why they are called illegal.
But there are some fundamental sociological explanations to this fixation on earning extra money in the northern state.
The cost of living has gone up there ... and everywhere, too. For the urban middle class, it is a monthly struggle managing the wages – after the deductions – settling the housing and car loans, and accounting for household items such as food, petrol, utility and tuition for the children.
The cost of living in Penang may be lower than that in the Klang Valley, but it is not cheap either. Any local will tell you that the portion of char koay teow has shrunk, although the price remains the same.
But unlike the Klang Valley, where career development and opportunities are greater, the same cannot be said of the island state.
Many of us who were born and brought up in Penang, moved to Kuala Lumpur because we were aware of the shortage of employment opportunities there.
We readily sacrificed so much, moving away from our parents and friends, relinquishing the relaxed way of life and the good food for a “harder” life in the Klang Valley. We paid the price for wanting a better life.
Job advancement means better salaries, but in Penang, where employers have a smaller base, they are unable to match the kind of pay packages offered in KL.
So, an extra few hundred ringgit from such investments does make a lot of difference to the average wage earner.
It is not unusual for many in the federal capital to take a second job to ensure they can balance their finances.
I don’t think many Penangites expect to be millionaires, at least not that quickly, although JJPTR has become a household acronym since hitting the market in the last two years. As most Malaysians by now know, it stands for JJ Poor-to-Rich, the name resonating well with middle class families.
Its founder, Johnson Lee, with his squeaky clean, boyish looks, assured over 400,000 people of his 20% monthly pay-outs and even more incredibly, convinced many that billions of ringgit vanished due to a hacking job.
Then came Richway Global Venture, Change Your Life (CYL) and BTC I-system, among others. And almost like clockwork, Penang has now earned the dubious reputation of being the base for get-rich-quick schemes.
Having written this article while in Penang, I found out this issue continues to be the hottest topic in town, despite the recent crackdowns by the authorities.
My colleague Tan Sin Chow recently reported in the northern edition of The Star that “money games are on the minds of many Penangites.”
On chat groups with friends and former schoolmates, it has certainly remained very much alive.
Tan wrote: “Another friend, Robert, had a jolt when, a doctor he knew, told patients to put their money into such a scheme. A doctor!
“From the cleaners at his office to the hawkers and professionals he met, everyone, it seems, was convinced. None questioned how the high returns could come to fruition in such a short time.”
We can be sure that these get-rich-quick scheme operators will lie low for a while, but the racket will surface again, in a different form and under a different name.
There is no substitute for honest, hard work. Money doesn’t fall from the sky, after all.