The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God was founded in 1977 by Edir Macedo, a former lottery cashier from the state of Rio de Janeiro. After almost 3 decades, the Church was so successful that today it is one of the largest Pentecostal cults in Latin America and Macedo’s fortune amounted to 1.1 Bn USD according to Forbes.
Bitcoin has already crossed paths with religion, and this is not good news. The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD by its Spanish acronym or UCKG in english) has been linked with AirBit Global, an organization that has been labeled as a Crypto Ponzi scheme upon which there are several complaints.
According to an extensive report published by the Brazilian portal The Intercept, the founder of AirBit Club Brasil (the Brazilian branch of AirBit Global) is linked to the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God and used his influence among the faithful to promote his project for several years.
The Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (UCKG) is no stranger to controversy. Despite its rapid growth and the commitment of its members, this religious organization has been involved in many scandals, both legal and religious.
Due to its practices, the Church was expelled from the Portuguese Evangelical Alliance in 1992, a decision similar to the one taken by its homologue Peruvian organization. However, in Belgium, the Chamber of Representatives cataloged this organization as a Cult commenting that “(The UCKG) is apparently a truly criminal association, whose only purpose is enrichment”. After a strong controversy, the legislative body revised its wording. Likewise, in 2014 the church was sanctioned in Madagascar for being considered a cult without permission to operate as an actual church.
Crypto Meets God
The research revealed that Gabriel Fonseca Reis, founder of AirBit Club Brasil, put himself among the members of the congregation as an example of success and prosperity thanks to crypto trading. This image was strongly promoted in different events of the church such as interviews, congresses, and public activities.
Fonseca Reis has leadership roles within the Church, even traveling around the world spreading the church’s message and “saving souls” as he said. In an article published on the official UCKG’s website, they portray a Fonseca who went from poor to rich. “Something that helped me a lot was that I already took part in the corporate meetings at Universal (Church of the Kingdom of God), which were broadening my vision and helping me not to be afraid of failure. I realized that the same faith that healed me could also be used to prosper” says Fonseca as a prelude to an invitation to the Church’s Congress for Success.
Fonseca has promoted AirBit in many countries, including Brazil, Portugal, Switzerland, Mexico, mentioning that Bitcoin (BTC) has been nominated for the Nobel Prize in Economics, both in 2015 and 2016 (yes… for real). Also, he promises daily profits to those investing.
AirBit has been cataloged as a dangerous business. In Colombia, the Superintendence of Finance issued a Communication explaining that although crypto trading is not regulated by the country, “what could be considered an illegal fundraising activity is the promotion of this business under pyramid schemes where returns are guaranteed for the fact of investing in cryptocurrencies with the commitment to link more people who also link to others who bring contributions that are ultimately the only source of payment of the benefits that the platform or the person promises”.
Scam Bitcoin labeled AirBit as “a viral pyramid and Ponzi scheme hybrid.” Also, the Brazilian website “Reclame aquí” has 31 complains against AirBit.
Other experiences don’t seem to be very pleasant either: “Yes, I am invested in Airbit Club,” a user told to CrDaily “The only way you can make money is by recruiting and screwing over other unsuspecting souls.”
On its main page, the organizers explain that AirBit is a “Blockchain Distributed Technology and Affiliate program, which is based on an algorithm that distributes fair referral commissions to all members.” They currently have over 2.5 million affiliates, according to company data.
The platform offers memberships that range from $1,000 to $7,000 for the initial packages (then there are other membership levels which do not show the amount of money required to be purchased). They offer profits for non-specific investments, and for attracting new members to the scheme. Likewise, it has not been possible to find any registration data of this organization or any legal representative at least.
At first sight, AirBit could raise several of the “red flags” described by the SEC in a guide to identify crypto – related Ponzi Schemes: It offers consistently high returns, has no license, relies on affiliates and referrals, is not registered nor licensed, does not provide clear information on trading strategies and does not require more qualification to invest than the fact of having money.
This Modus operandi resembles that of the infamous OneCoin, a project that offers memberships and educational packages with prices ranging from 100 to over 55K Euros – which is currently being investigated for causing nearly 4 Billion dollars in damages to investors.
Gabriel Fonseca Reis entered the world of MLM at the age of 17 with Multiclick Brasil. There he shared his skills in a promotional video explaining how he purchased a BMW after four months of being involved in the business.
When Multiclick Brasil was blocked by the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Santa Catarina for being a pyramid scheme that defrauded more than 300,000 people, Fonseca migrated to AirBit.
Are Religious People Easy to Manipulate?
Many times, religious cults, Ponzi schemes and MLM programs resort to similar tactics. Leaving aside the discussion of whether the intentions are legitimate or not, the basic strategy aims to generate an extreme, almost tribal empathy that leads the members of the organization to trust blindly in the proposals and ideas shared by their leaders.
According to the Humanist Association of Toronto “sometimes it’s important to note that religion; less an intellectual, moral guide … is merely a class-based tribal identity, useful for selling insurance, finding a business partner (etc)”. This perspective is worrying, especially when, beyond the use of crypto, other fraudsters have taken advantage of the ingenuity of religious believers to trick them.
“The underlying issue, I think, is the question of mutual trust,” Nancy Ammerman, a Boston University professor of religion and sociology said to Christian Century. “These schemes rely on and exploit that trust, and people within religious communities tend to have high levels of trust for others within their community.”
The Intercept attempted to contact the people under investigation. The Church denied any participation in the scheme, asserting that Gabriel Fonseca Reis is just another member of its congregation. Both AirBitClub and the UCKG refused speaking with Ethereum World News.
The best decision you could make before investing in crypto is to educate yourself and have a healthy dose of objectivity and common sense. When something is too good to be true, it usually is questionable; and only God will be able to help you if you are involved in a scam by the time it comes out.