Lorena’s daughter was just 17 when she joined the IM Academy, an online trading course that promised to bring her wealth and success by training her in foreign exchange and cryptocurrency investing.
But like hundreds of other young people in Europe, Lorena’s daughter ended up being sucked into what Spanish investigators are now calling a pyramid scheme.
According to María Fernández, the Spanish National Police Spokesperson, leaders of the organisation used cult-like techniques to persuade youngsters to cut ties with their families and focus only on the organisation.
The group’s leaders would lure young people by bragging about their luxury lifestyles allegedly achieved as a result of changing their mindset towards a success-led mentality.
Instead of hosting training materials related to financial learning, the IM Academy is merely a collection of motivational videos.
Unable to pay for their fees to stay at the Academy, students would then be offered money to bring new members into the organisation. The more people an individual recruited, the more money they would make.
A former middle-rank member told Euronews that he recruited up to 30 people and would spend 14 hours a day “evangelising” his group and trying to register new members.
It took him two years to realise he was being used as an instrument of a pyramid scheme.
Almost all the IM Academy members are victims of coercive persuasion.
As such, more than 60 families are now receiving counselling from RedUne, an association specialising in cults and sectarianism.
“Those who promote these kinds of groups have a playbook on how to capture and groom recruits,” Juantxo Domínguez, the president of the organisation, said.
“You don’t realise where you are headed, because you have a need, you have a vulnerability”.