Nine West-country women aged 34-69 who ran an illegal pyramid scheme scooping more than £20 million from 10,000 duped “investors” have pleaded guilty to fraud, with most receiving prison sentences, some suspended.

The victims mostly targeted were other women, who were enticed to attend champagne parties held at the 22-room Battleborough Grange Country House Hotel, Brent Knoll, Somerset, a hotel run by 69 year-old fraudster and charity fundraiser Carol Chalmers. At the parties women were persuaded to start a 15 person pyramid by investing £3,000 and persuading two others to do the same, and then recruiting two others each and so on.

The pyramids had a line of eight investors on the bottom row, four in the next row, two in the next and one on the top and all investors theoretically moved up as others joined the pyramid, with the one finally reaching the top being paid £24,000, less £1,000 for admin costs and a charity donation. The £24.000 was only paid out if the pyramid was completed and revenue of £45,000 was generated by 15 investors. In nearly all cases the pyramids were never completed, the investors lost their £3,000 and the fraudsters pocketed hundreds of thousands of pounds from a financial model so seriously rigged in their favour having told their victims “You can’t lose”.

With scams that so obviously depend for their success on scamming others, and no-one bothering to do the maths, you always can.

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