Police rescue pyramid scheme members trapped in house after call for help on social media

Officers in southern China find man and woman less than three hours after ‘call the police’ message is posted on Weibo

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 5:04pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 October, 2017, 9:12pm

Police in southern China said they rescued a man and a woman who had been trapped in a house by a pyramid scheme organisation, less than three hours after the man put out a call for help on social media.

Ten people suspected of forcing them to stay in the house were detained.

It was the sixth time officers in Hunan province had freed members of pyramid schemes after they had sought help on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter, Hunan police said in a Weibo post on Thursday.

Xie Jianwen posted a message asking for help with his name, phone number and location on Thursday morning.

“Call the police,” it read. “I am at the old house near a fish pond, in front of the Tianle sofa factory in Yiyang.”

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The post was seen by Hunan police nine minutes later and officers in the city of Yiyang were alerted. It took a team about two hours to locate the house, in a rural area, where the man and woman were being held.

Pyramid schemes were banned in China in 2005, but the underground operations – some involving millions of members who pay a joining fee and must then recruit new investors – continue to thrive.

Lured by the promise of quick riches, victims are sometimes forced to live together in cramped housing, and some say they have been threatened and brainwashed.

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Across the country, police investigated 2,826 pyramid scheme cases last year, up 19.1 per cent from 2015, according to the Ministry of Public Security.

In the decade from 2005, police investigated more than 20,000 pyramid scheme cases, involving a total of 6.3 billion yuan (US$951.3 million) and 9,668 suspects.

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Hunan police said in its Weibo post that officers were receiving a growing number of reports via social media, but advised anyone in danger to call the emergency number – 110 – for a faster response.