By Cagan Koc and Taylan Bilgic
The developer of a $130 million FarmVille-type video game in Turkey that authorities warned was a ponzi scheme has reportedly fled the country, leaving hundreds of thousands of Turks with no clarity on whether they’ll get their money back.
Mehmet Aydin, the 26-year-old founder of the wildly popular game Farm Bank, fled to Uruguay, Turkish daily newspaper Hurriyet said on Thursday. His wife, Sila Aydin, and a board member of the company that ran the game were arrested, the state Anadolu Agency reported late Wednesday.
Players of Farm Bank, or Ciftlik Bank in Turkish, used real money to buy virtual animals and produce and sell virtual crops. The game promised to double their investments in a year by directing the money raised into actual agricultural investments, including what Aydin claimed in December would be Europe’s biggest dairy farm.
About 1,000 cattle from another facility have been seized by authorities, Anadolu Agency reported on Wednesday.
A week ago, Turkey’s customs ministry charged Farm Bank with aggravated fraud and demanded the website be shut down following an investigation. Four Facebook groups for Ciftlik Bank victims have attracted nearly 50,000 followers between them. A number of people recounted stories of taking out loans to play the game, which is no longer accessible on its website.
Aydin and his partners started Farm Bank in August 2016 and it quickly took off, reaching 350,000 domestic and 150,000 foreign players as of January. Several state agencies started investigating the game late last year, prompting Aydin to invite fellow citizens to the Anatolian site where he’d purchased land to build a dairy farm to convince them it was legit.
Pyramid and ponzi schemes typically offer returns to investors from money paid in by subsequent participants. In ponzi scams, though, participants believe they are earning returns from their investment. Both systems aren’t sustainable and eventually fall apart, typically leaving later investors with nothing.