QuestNet clients wearing "Chi Pendants" to "banish mobile phone waves".

One of our Observers in Burkina Faso, Emmanuel, alerted us to the recent arrival of a company called QuestNet. Suspicious of its business model, Emmanuel researched the company. It turns out that QuestNet is actually a pyramid scheme and is already banned is several American and Asian countries. It is now trying to establish what it describes as a “life changing vehicle”, but what is considered by most a life destroying scam, in Africa.

The company Questnet has requested us to publish its response to this article. Click here to read Questnet’s letter.

Our Observer’s experiences with QuestNet

Paul M (not his real name) was invited to a meeting organised by QuestNet in a hotel in Koudougou, Burkina Faso.

There were about 100 of us in the hotel. The people from QuestNet told us that the company sold two products. One of them was the Bio Disc, a miracle filter which ‘energises' water. The other was the Chi Pendant, which is supposed to protect and therefore vastly improve your well-being by banishing ‘bad waves' such as those from microwaves, mobile phones etc.

They told us that selling these products would make us rich. The price of your first Bio Disc or Chi Pendant is quite high at 325,000 CFA francs [495 euros], but they told us that we would break even very quickly. The next stage is to recruit two people into selling the products too, at which point you earn 30,000 CFA francs. After that, you gain commission every time you recruit a salesperson, but also after every time those salespeople recruit someone else. They told us we could become rich very quickly. They said there were already 2,000 people selling the products in Burkina Faso.

This kind of trade seemed suspicious to me. Firstly because the products are so expensive that people like me would have to get into debt in order to buy them. Secondly, because I'm not convinced by the Bio Disc or the Chi Pendant. I looked them up on the internet and nobody's talking about the products in France, for example. If they really worked, then why would they only sell them in Burkina Faso?"

The story of a scam

Following the alert from our Observer, the FRANCE 24 editorial team examined QuestNet's activities.

QuestNet's business model is simply a pyramid scheme: a non-sustainable system in which the products are phoney and the salespeople deceived. The system is clearly explained on Wikipedia. The QuestNet managers con potential salespeople into believing that they will easily find others willing to sell the products too and therefore receive regular commission. However, while the first few of those involved do earn some money from the system - an outcome used to convince others that it works - there soon become too many salespeople and not enough buyers to purchase the product. The large majority of people who buy the Bio Disc or the Chi Pendant have no chance of recruiting enough salespeople in order to make back the money they spent on it and let alone gain any profit. 

The system is illegal in many countries, including France, Belgium and Canada. QuestNet takes advantage of loopholes in certain national legislations however in order to continue the scam. As soon as their dealings begin raising suspicions in a country, they find a new one to establish themselves in.

Banned in Dubai and India

The geographical origin of QuestNet is unknown, although online records show that the company originated in the US, when it worked under the name of "Gold-Quest International", selling coin collections to indigenous Americans.

The US authorities clamped down on the company (in 2008 the founder's assets were frozen after a court order - see conclusion by the US Securities and Exchange Committee). But they were already operating elsewhere; adapting products to the local market, but always using the same business model. As early as 2002 the company had been closed down in Dubai. It was investigated in 2004 in Cambodia, and just a few months ago, the company was sentenced in an Indian court.

Selling coasters that protect you from HIV

Today, the company is making tracks in Africa. Its first targets were Uganda, Kenya and Rwanda, where it tried to commercialise coasters that supposedly protect you from contracting HIV. In Rwanda, an investigation launched by the National Bank of Rwanda quickly saw the company banned by order from the finance minister.

Targeting the poorest of society

QuestNet presents itself as a miracle money maker, despite the model having been proven scientifically unsustainable. The sale of the products is fraudulent and targets the poorest of society - those who are desperate to make money quickly. The scam destroys relationships, because it's to family and friends that recruited salesmen then sell the scheme to themselves. They convince their friends into indebting themselves in order to enrol in the scheme, and later find themselves responsible for both their own and their friends' financial struggles when the pyramid collapses.

No need to open an office

QuestNet is very efficient when moving to a new country. There's no need to open an office. The company begins by holding an introductory meeting, usually in a hotel. It attracts its first salespeople by offering them the best tariffs. Once they've been recruited, word of mouth does the rest. QuestNet quickly transfers its earnings outside of the country, before the number of salespeople becomes too high and the pyramid collapses.

The company is very skilled at handling communication and uses the Web to respond to any attacks. It posts FAQ pages specific to each country online (see here for the Ivory Coast) and has a number of sites and blogs which are well referenced by Google. Pages written by QuestNet itself come up first if you search for "QuestNet fraud" or "QuestNet scam". If you click on the results you will find out that QuestNet is simply a "multi-level" marketing company, a "legitimate business" and not a pyramid scheme. Most of the countries it's worked in, however, seem to think otherwise.