Easy-cash plan alarms trading officer: People pay pounds 75 a month to Alchemy UK and hope to profit in the long run by recruiting other members. But how long can it last?

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The Independent Online
DO YOU want to join a scheme that offers you the opportunity to become a top earner or millionaire?

You will be offering a product that everyone needs, everyone wants, absolutely everywhere. All it requires is the commitment, dedication and action to go out and do it.

Well perhaps not quite all. There is the little matter of the joining fee of pounds 50 and the initial subscription of pounds 200 - not forgetting the pounds 75 a month you pay to stay in the scheme. But of course, these amounts are a drop in the ocean. They are just a means to the end of achieving everything you want out of life.

It sounds too good to be true? Not if you believe the promotional hype for a scheme called Alchemy UK.

And why not believe it? After all, the man who handles the public relations for the scheme is none other than Max Clifford. Mr Clifford is perhaps better known for his other clients, such as Lady Bienvenida Buck and Valerie Harkess and her daughter, Josephine.

There are also big claims being made for Alchemy's staying ability.

According to the promotional video for Alchemy: 'At launch we have a value of over pounds 30m.' And within two years, Alchemy will have expanded worldwide and be valued at pounds 3bn, the video claims.

The scheme is basically multi-level marketing, but you are not trying to persuade people to join and sell jewellery or slimming pills. Instead, you get them to pay money to Alchemy in order to get back more money yourself.

You pay pounds 250 up front and then pounds 75 a month for the rest of the time you are in the scheme. For the first three months, you receive nothing.

In month four, you receive pounds 75 from Alchemy, the same in the fifth and sixth month, then the amount increases. By the end of the first year, the theory is you will have got back pounds 1,525. (You will have paid out pounds 1,150). You keep paying in and the payments back continue thereafter. If you persuade others to become members, you get commissions and other bonuses on top.

Alchemy is based in Doncaster. The founder members are Kev Jones, Nigel Garvey and Steve Roberts.

Alchemy was officially launched in December 1993. The three founder members are undoubtedly making money.

They have all the trappings of the good life: the fast cars, designer suits, and - if Mr Garvey is anything to go by - a very nice line in sales patter about how much good Alchemy does for everyone who joins, the benefits they will have, and the scheme's support for charities.

As for the good it is doing him and his co-founders, Mr Garvey - who admits to having had some financial problems in the past - says: 'The flash cars - part of that is image. We are earning a very good amount of money out of it, but if our members do not earn we do not either. We built the network and everyone who joins has the same opportunity.'

According to Mr Garvey, there are already nearly 8,000 members, and it is 'growing at a phenomenal rate'.

But underneath all the hype the whole scheme is dependent on enough people joining, so that the new members can finance the payments to the earlier ones.

Mr Garvey is adamant that Alchemy is here to stay, and that the number of members needed to fund it is not as huge as the cynics say.

He says: 'Some people say eventually it will burn out. So will the sun, but people do not worry about that. The only way Alchemy will burn out is if we recruit everyone in the world'.

The cynics remain, however. The South Yorkshire police have not had any complaints about Alchemy, but a spokesman says: 'We can see no long- term prospects for a scheme of this kind. I would anticipate that if it folds, the most recent club members will be out of pocket.'

Councillor Ray Stockhill, the chairman of Doncaster Council Enviromental Services Committee, says: 'A joining fee of pounds 250 and a monthly subscription of pounds 75 is a lot of money to many people.

'Prospective subscribers to money-making schemes should always seek appropriate professional advice and consider whether sufficient new members are likely to be recruited.'

This sort of money-making scheme falls through a huge regulatory hole.

The Office of Fair Trading does not want to know unless a company has a consumer credit licence, which is not usually needed for such schemes.

The Securities and Investments Board says that it is not its responsibility, as there is no investment business and no investment advice.

Bob Imrie, assistant chief trading standards officer for Devon and a specialist in fair trading law, said: 'Trading standards officers are increasingly concerned about these so- called money-making schemes.

'There is no legislation in force by trading standards that can deal with the problem, so it is a matter for the Department of Trade and Industry.'

Mr Garvey says that the DTI spent several weeks in Alchemy's office before the launch.

The DTI declined to comment on Alchemy.

(Photograph omitted)