Evaly, the latest digital business scam

Evaly offers consumers all sorts of lucrative deals, with ‘cash back’ offers going up to 100 to 150 per cent. If you buy, for example, Tk 100 worth of goods, you can get the same amount back or even more. Thousands of consumers are being lured in by these almost unbelievable deals being offered by this Bangladeshi e-commerce company. A few are even making a profit, but most are still waiting to see the big bucks.

People should understand that the seller or the company which is giving you 100 per cent or 150 per cent cash-back is not paying from their own pocket or inheritance. They are cheating others and resorting to other unethical means.
Mahbub Kabir, additional secretary

Not even two years into the business, this company has already sold products worth Tk 10 billion (Tk 1000 crore). Yet the company’s paid-up capital is only Tk 50,000. As the business grows, a growing number of complaints have also been lodged against with various government agencies. Experts apprehend that this method of business is conducive to money laundering.

Online shopping saves time and cuts down on risks. Evaly registered as a home delivery company for all sorts of products. It sells motorcycles, refrigerators, cell phones, televisions and much more. Recently it has started selling cars too.

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According to Evaly, the number of their registered clients exceeds 3.5 million (35 lakh). It monthly transactions total Tk 3 billion (Tk 300 crore) in products. It has paid Tk 15 million (Tk 1.5 crore) in taxes against Tk 15 billion (Tk 1500 crore) in sales. On average it receives orders of around Tk 1 million (Tk 10 lakh) per month.

In the meantime, another 25,000 retail companies have become attached to Evaly, receiving commission on the sales of 4000 types of products.

This company with started with a paid-up capital of Tk 50,000, still had a paid-up capital of 50,000. Evaly.com Ltd was registered on 14 May 2018 with the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies and Firms. Its authorised capital is Tk 500,000 (Tk 5 lakh). The company’s managing director Mohammad Rassel owns 1000 shares worth Tk 10 each. His wife and chairman of the company, Shamima Nasrin, owns 4000 shares. Mohammad Rassel paid Tk 10,000 of the paid-up capital and Shamima Nasrin paid Tk 40,000.

Founder of Evaly, Mohammad Rassel holds an MBA degree for Dhaka University’s Institute of Business Administration (IBA). He began his career working at Dhaka Bank. After leaving the bank, he began business, importing ‘Kids’ brand diapers. Then he set up Evaly.

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In the beginning a system called ‘Voucher’ was introduced, offering 300 per cent and 200 per cent cash back. Now the cash back offers are 150 per cent, 100 per cent and later 40 per cent too. Evaly began by selling pen drives for Tk 10 and T-shirts for Tk 15, creating quite a sensation.

Additional secretary Mahbub Kabir, recently made officer-on-special-duty (OSD) from the railways ministry for writing against corruption on the social media, recently posted a comment about Evaly on Facebook. He said, there may be just five items, but since no one knows, 100 people deposit payment for these. But only 5 will receive the products and 95 will remain hanging. People should understand that the seller or the company which is giving you 100 per cent or 150 per cent cash-back is not paying from their own pocket or inheritance. They are cheating others and resorting to other unethical means.

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Innovative sales methods

A resident of Mirpur in the capital city, Kamrul Ahsan, on 24 June ordered for two fans from Evaly for Tk 5,800. The delivery was to be made within 7 to 45 days. Kamrul got 90 per cent cash back, that is, Tk 5,220 with the order. He finished off the money on kacchi biriyani supplied by Evaly, but has not received the fans as yet, though 2 months have lapsed.

Kamrul Ahsan, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “I ordered the fans because I needed them. I have waited so long that I finally went and bought fans from the market. Even if Evaly eventually sends the fans, what will I do with them? That’s another headache.”

In the conventional way of sales, payment has to be made up front. Nowadays systems to buy goods on credit or pay in installments have been introduced in the country. And online shopping has caught on in the past few years, where cash is paid on delivery. But Evaly does not follow any of these methods. It takes payment in advance.

At the outset it was said that Tk 150,000 cash would be paid returned on goods bought for Tk 100,000. This was its ‘cash back’ bait. The cash back is deposited as balance with Evaly, that too three days later. Then the customer can pay 60 per cent of the product’s price from the balance. The remaining 40 per cent comes from the customer’s pocket.

Evaly has ‘voucher offers’ of up to 150 per cent. They have an alternative programme called ‘campaign’. Depending on the campaign, the products are supplied within 7 to 45 days. The Evaly authorities claim full rights to make necessary changes, revisions or alterations to campaigns in the need arises. Some customers, however, complain that they do not receive their merchandise within the stipulated time. Evaly says that the products are supplied according to the stock. The customers can take their money back if they want.

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Resident of Mirpur DOHS in Dhaka, Amanullah Chowdhury, submitted an application on 14 July to the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) chairman, asking for investigations into E-valy’s activities. Amanullah Chowdhury told Prothom Alo that Evaly is a digital MLM company. This should be banned in the interests of the country’s e-commerce platform.

Evaly’s style of work is a lot like MLM companies. Seeing the fraud carried out by such MLM companies, it looks like Evaly is doing the same.... It apparently seems to be a money laundering scam. But Bangladesh Bank can look into the matter.
Tanjib-ul-Alam, lawyer

Shortfall in supply

The main challenge in e-commerce is timely delivery, but Evaly cannot maintain this in most cases. It informs its customers that there is no stock and so the order has been cancelled.

Evaly also takes advance from customers in the names of ‘Gift Card’. Those buying these ‘gift cards’ simply tie up their money with the company.

‘E-wallet’ is another Evaly feature. When a customer cancels his order, fed up upon not receiving his goods from Evaly, his money goes to the ‘e-wallet’. EValy even cancels orders itself if there is no supply of any particular product and then, too, the customer’s money goes to the ‘e-wallet’. The customer does not get his money back but has to use that amount to buy some other product.

Giving an example of this, a deprived Evaly customer said that someone orders for an Asus laptop, pays in advance, and then two months later Evaly says that this product is not in supply. There are other costlier laptops in stock and the customer has no alternative but to buy one of those.

Evaly’s website has a ‘support’ option which provisions to make phone calls or send emails. But the phone has an automatic reply that says, “Our team is looking into the matter and will call you back soon,” or “Please be patient. You will receive your product soon.”

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Section 45 of the Consumers Rights Act maintains that if the promised goods are not delivered in exchange of the settled payment, a one-year prison sentence or Tk 50,000 taka fine, or both, may be imposed.

Director general of the consumers’ rights protection directorate, Bablu Kumar Saha, told Prothom Alo, “We have received complaints against Evaly and are taking action. But many are not complaining properly and so are not receiving any solution.”

Prothom Alo spoke to the Evaly MD, Mohammad Rassel on 16 August at the company’s office down the road by Sobhanbagh mosque in the city. Another interaction took place over call phone on 20 August.

Mohammad Rassel said that there was nothing wrong with Evaly’s sales methods. He said they followed various methods but did not violate the law. For example, he said, “Of the Tk 100 cash back paid on a Tk 100 product, 60 per cent is added to the Evaly balance. The customer pays 40 per cent anew to buy another product. Evaly incurs a loss of 12 to 15 per cent, but when the customer buys another product, the loss is covered.”

He went on to say, COVID-19 has caused hitches in the supply of cell phones, motor cycles and certain other products. However, there is no chance of not receiving the products.

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No central cell as yet

In 2018 the commerce ministry prepared the national digital commerce policy. The objective of the policy was to ensure an appropriate environment, transparency, liability and accountability for digital business, create trust between the buyer and the seller and take legal measures to protect the interests of the buyer and seller.

A central cell was to be formed under the commerce ministry’s WTO cell and the cell was to list digital commerce companies on its website. But two years have passed since then and the cell is yet to be formed. But on the commerce ministry’s notice board there are the names of 1000 e-commerce firms, including EValy.

The policy maintains that the digital commerce company’s must mention on their website the conditions regarding return of sold goods, refunds and replacement. Evaly’s website has no mention of this. Evaly does not have cash-in-delivery facilities as necessitated in the policy.

Commerce secretary Md Zafrullah, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “We support e-commerce and there is vast potential ahead. However, fraud in the name of e-commerce will not be accepted. We have received complaints about Evaly and are looking into it.” He said that the cell would be formed soon.

It has been learnt that the main obstacle in forming the cell is the provision to include a representative from the information and ICT division. The commerce ministry is revising this condition.

When the MLM act was passed in 2013, Mahbub Ahmed was the commerce secretary. Speaking to Prothom Alo on Sunday about Evaly’s marketing methods, he said, “Its operations are similar to a MLM company. I believe the facts will come to surface if Bangladesh bank investigates it.”

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E-wallet licence

The e-wallet process in which Evaly is keeping money has no licence from Bangladesh Bank. A week after the outbreak of coronavirus in the country, the central bank issued a notice, warning against any such wallet services without licence.

Mohammad Rassel said, “It is not just us, but the entire e-commerce that is on the rise. We are even trying to bring in foreign investment to Evaly. There may be some errors, but we are doing good business and have good response. We do not have the type of wallet that Bangladesh Bank has mentioned and so we do not need any licence for that.”

Lawyer Tanjib-ul-Alam, speaking to Prothom Alo, said, “Evaly’s style of work is a lot like MLM companies. Seeing the fraud carried out by such MLM companies, it looks like Evaly is doing the same. A company with Tk 50,000 paid-up capital is selling products of Tk 150 million (Tk 1.5 crore). If the company directors were capable, they could have increased the paid-up capital. It apparently seems to be a money laundering scam. But Bangladesh Bank can look into the matter.”

* This report appeared in the print and online edition of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten in English by Ayesha Kabir