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Virtual farming game cheats Turks out of real property

Turkish prosecutors have opened an investigation into a young man being accused of using a Ponzi scheme to bilk around 80,000 Turks out of millions of dollars.
Agricultural workers pick cotton from a field on October 8, 2017 in Hatay. / AFP PHOTO / ILYAS AKENGIN        (Photo credit should read ILYAS AKENGIN/AFP/Getty Images)

Are you a gamer? If so, you may be familiar with Farmville, the social network game where you raise animals and enjoy farming activities with your friends. Resembling nothing so much as the decade-old game, Mehmet Aydin first established Farm Bank (Ciftlik Bank) in Northern Cyprus at the end of 2016, boasting, “Invest 200,000 Turkish liras [$51,000] and you will earn 50,000 liras [$13,000] a month” complete with an investment handbook. His offer was too good to be true, but it proved too good to resist for about 80,000 people in Turkey. On March 12, after months of reports about the various pyramid or Ponzi characteristics of this scheme, prosecutors opened an investigation into Aydin and his companies based on the complaints of 20 Farm Bank members. Aydin had already left Turkey and is in Uruguay, where he obtained a residency permit. His soon-to-be ex-wife, Sila Soysal, was taken into custody on March 14. Aydin's scheme is estimated to have stolen tens of millions of dollars. There is also speculation that Mehmet Aydin might not even be his real name.

So how did a 26-year-old man establish such a lucrative scheme right under the public eye? With an insidiously innocent-seeming first step. You can become a member for free, but you start making a profit when you make the game “real,” meaning you spend money to buy virtual animals. An estimated 500,000 people signed up as members, while around 80,000 invested money. The latter believed they were actually buying animals with the money they invested in the game and that their returns were the profits of a real farm. Its Twitter account is still active, but its Facebook account and website have been taken down.

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