#BBCtrending: #Wearethepeople and the 'fraudulent' dinar ruse
- 15 February 2014
A BBC Trending investigation has found that one of the biggest trends on Twitter in the US - #wearethepeople - involves claims about the Iraqi dinar which the International Monetary Fund has called "completely fraudulent".
The hashtag #wearethepeople looks huge. Since it took off on 26 January, there have been more than four million tweets. At first glance, those using the hashtag appear to be making an anti-banking, anti-establishment argument - similar to the Occupy movement. "The bankers do not want us picking on them. Then be ethical! #wearethepeople," for example.
But many of the tweets use terminology which is unintelligible to the outside observer. "Release the RV", they say, "release the Global Currency Reset". This might sound like financial jargon - but these are not economic terms recognised by economists. One of the biggest accounts pushing the hashtag - @THE_TNT_TEAM - has more than 250,000 followers. But tests run on the account suggest that between 65% and 80% of the followers are fake - meaning the scale of the trend is far smaller than the number of tweets would suggest. That said, those who are real followers are heavily engaged. Statistics from the group's chat forum show as many as 25,000 people logging in per day.
So what's it all about? "TNT Tony" - as the man behind this calls himself - encourages Americans to invest in the Iraqi dinar. He says the currency will be revalued imminently, making anyone who buys dinars rich overnight. TNT Tony hosts regular conference calls in which he updates his followers on the latest news on the dinar. Over the past few weeks, he has upped the ante, saying that a secret deal has been struck on the revaluation, and that this preferential rate is available only to the "elites". In short, he claims there is a giant global currency conspiracy.
The International Monetary Fund told BBC Trending that the claims being made are "completely fraudulent". Top economists that we have spoken to from Harvard University to the London School of Economics have dismissed the ideas being promoted as "complete hokum" and "dangerous". The dinar has been stable since 2010, and - say economists - if is revalued then it is more likely to go down against the dollar than up. TNT Tony declined to answer questions for this report.
Dinars are not available for sale at high street banks in the US, so the purchase of dinars takes place via a "dinar dealer" who takes a large commission - about 20%. As long as there is no connection - and no kick-backs - between the "dinar dealers" and those encouraging people to buy them, then this is all 100% legal. In TNT Tony's case, there is nothing we have seen that would suggest he operating outside the law.
TNT Tony is just one of a number of people who host online forums in which they offer "expert" advice and the latest "intelligence" on the dinar to anyone interested in investing. There is a long history of this in the US - dating back to soon after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. BBC Trending has been in contact with a number of Americans who have invested in dinars - some are hoping for a return of almost 1000 times their initial investment.
"It sucks you in," says Marcus Curtis who spent more than $3,000 (£1800) on Iraqi dinars in 2010 and encouraged his friends and family to do the same. "I spent two years of my life in the forums talking to people and learning all this stuff that wasn't true." He is now one of a handful of people who research, blog and campaign - often with considerable zeal - against those promoting the dinar. He describes some of the characteristics of the forums as "cult-like". There are examples of marriages breaking up and people losing their homes after spending money on dinars they cannot afford, he says. The hashtag #wearethepeople is still going strong, thanks to its fake - but also some very real - followers.
Reporting by Cordelia Hebblethwaite
Hear the full story of the Iraqi dinar conspiracy on BBC Trending on BBC World Service at 11:30 GMT on Saturday.