Zippy last posted an Instagram post in April 2022, a four-paragraph apology post that said he was sorry he didn’t deliver orders on time and that he would make amends. Then he disappeared.

Sheikh says he still can’t understand why Zippy did what he did. “If he really wanted to leave, why didn’t he just disappear or disappear immediately? Why did he post long apology posts?» he says. “Was he always the bad guy? Or was he a good guy who saw the money and became a fraud? I guess we’ll never know.’

But scams and scams have increased along with the growth of informal online businesses in Pakistan. Last year, hundreds of Pakistani women were defrauded by a Karachi-based businesswoman, Sidra Humaid, who ran online committees, a method of saving money by pooling a certain amount each month. After raising nearly $2 million, Humaid announced that she had “no means to pay her committees.”

In 2020, more than 100,000 people in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province were robbed of 5.6 billion rupees ($19 million), according to news reports. Victims of the fraudsters were promised high returns — nearly 13 percent — on their investments by an online investment company based in Peshawar, but they disappeared without a trace in November of that year.

Tariq, the founder of a technology company, says she believes the rise in fraud is down to a combination of economic stress and the fact that victims are rarely able to get help. About a month ago, Tariq heard about another scam: fearsome moneylenders who groom unsuspecting working-class women by borrowing money to make ends meet.

“These women who were cheated on knew what the risk was. They probably knew that they were being robbed, but in fact there is no other way,” she said. “And they didn’t take loans for frivolous reasons, to buy clothes or something else. They probably took it because someone is sick at home. So this is desperation, this exploitation that is now flourishing. We also see this in the startup ecosystem where startups get bad terms from fake investors.”

And yet, says Tariq, no one is counting on the intervention of law enforcement agencies. “I don’t think the average person, even for a minute, thinks about going to court,” she says. “I think scammers count on that, too. They know that no one will take them to court.”

However, the ZipTech scandal may have some resolution.

One member of the Pakistan PC Gamers group, Heather Ali Khan, happens to be a lawyer. After reading reports from angry ZipTech customers in April, Khan contacted his lawyer friend Khaliq Zaman and suggested they start a lawsuit. They offered to do the work for free, and more than 150 people applied for help within a day. “People called me a savior,” Khan says. “It was overwhelming.”

On May 17, they sent an official notice to Zippi — his two shops in Karachi, his villa in the city’s Bahria Town area and his other residence in Sukkur, 230 miles from the city. All notifications have been sent back. “We found that he had escaped,” says Zaman. “The stores he opened have closed. And they also sent certificates to the addresses of residence that he no longer lives there.”

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