In crisis, there is plenty of opportunity.
Over the years, nations and peoples have encountered countless crises. And while such events caused widespread suffering and difficulty, crisis often brings out the best in us. It is during crisis that great leaders emerge and rise to the challenge. When a crisis hits us, as individuals or as a people, we should not just look at the bad side. We have to look for ways to overcome the challenges and come out of it stronger.
However, a man who claims to be Francis Leo Marcos saw the Covid 19 pandemic in the country as an opportunity to perpetuate what could be the biggest scam in modern history. With the skillful use of social media, FLM — he likes to be called that, in the tradition of FM (Ferdinand Marcos) — has embarked on a money-making scheme with charity as his cover story.
In uncovering this scam, I had to research literature about con artists. The Internet provided me with a vast library of resources — books, magazine articles, YouTube videos on lectures and interviews. In the two weeks that I’ve been working on my exposes about FLM, I gained enough knowledge to be able to discuss the traits of a scammer, or budol-budol in our country.
It’s hard to believe that in this day and age, many people still fall victim to the fraudulent schemes of this individuals. Social media has provided them a vehicle to be able to reach a wider audience, and hoodwink more victims with just a few videos and pictures on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Tiktok and Twitter. Scam artists have become more sophisticated. And they understand that the basic weaknesses of their victims are amplified because of social media.
The flood of information that is delivered by social media is supposed to make people more aware about schemes that will make them bid their money good-bye. Somehow, that isn’t happening. People seem to be more gullible, in fact. Fake news have managed to gain foothold in this environment. With a deluge of information being fed to the public, it has become harder to distinguish what is true and what is false.
Most of the scams we know about involve “investments”. The Ponzi scam is still the most popular. We see these in most of the networking enterprises that have sprouted left and right. This fraud is done by promising high returns on investments on an enterprise that is non-existent. It feeds on the greed of people to get rich quick. Victims have disregarded the warning that “if it’s too good to be true, it is probably is.”
What FLM is doing is different. It’s not investment. It capitalizes on our weakness to be helpful through charity. His past schemes have mostly dealt with fake charity work. His modus operandi was raise funds through donations for optical missions in which his organization gives free eyeglasses to indigent recipients. This is the main reason he adopted the Marcos family name. It attaches a sense of credibility to his scheme. And who would suspect that the giving of eyeglasses is a scam?
I found out that he would usually approach rich people and ask for donations. Quite a number have fallen prey to his scheme and gave substantial amounts of money. After all, he is a “Marcos”. And he is supposed to be a billionaire. However, only a small portion of the money he got from donors actually go to free eyeglasses. He squandered the rest on his lavish lifestyle and gambling.
This time, FLM saw an opportunity to scam hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Filipinos with his fake charity work. He must have done some math and figured that if he could entice a million Filipinos working abroad to donate $5.00 on the average to his “Mayaman Challenge”, he could harvest a hefty $5.0 million when this is over. That is equivalent to P250 million!
How does he do it? He makes use of the “SuperChat” feature on YouTube livestreaming. This allows viewers to donate any amount with the use of their credit cards to a channel. After intense mind conditioning about how rich he is, and how much help he has extended to poor families, FLM is now spending three to four hours every day doing YouTube livestreaming. And I have seen how his viewers have enthusiastically jumped into the “Mayaman Challenge” bandwagon and chipped in.
Nobody knows how much money he has collected since the Covid 19 pandemic started. But one thing is certain: he stays up late at night and wakes up before the crack of dawn to livestream. Somehow, it hasn’t occurred to most people why he, a “billionaire”, would spend hours and hours every day for livestreaming. The amounts he is getting from donors ranges from P50 to P1,000. That’s peanuts for a real billionaire. And he has often said he is not accepting cash donations.
I am glad that my expose has enlightened tens of thousands of Filipinos who would have otherwise fallen victim to his fraud. It just saddens me that there are many who weren’t warned earlier and parted with their money. Their motive was to help. Unfortunately, they had no inkling they were being scammed by a notorious budol-budol opeator named Francis Leo Marcos, or Norman Mangusin in real life.