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Geneva, mobile banking and George Clooney

I'm back now from my Alpine sojourn, one particular episode of which is a story I think I'll be retelling for years. It's certainly one of the most surreal encounters I've ever had.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor on

I'm back now from my Alpine sojourn, one particular episode of which is a story I think I'll be retelling for years. It's certainly one of the most surreal encounters I've ever had.

I was on a commuter boat in Geneva when I started chatting with a Brazilian chap who my companion - also Brazilian - and I had seen on the same boat an hour or so before. I made the mistake of mentioning I was a technology journalist, which obviously piqued his interest. He suggested we go for a drink at a bar next to his apartment.

My companion and I ordered some wine while he went to drop off his shopping. He then returned with a thick file and a laptop. The file contained his portfolio for one of his careers, as a professional George Clooney lookalike. He then launched what he meant to be an hour-long presentation about a mobile-banking-slash-social-networking scheme that would be going live in a few months' time.

The system is based on referrals, which earn the referrers money that is, until the launch, virtual. As I recall, it also involved investing some real money up-front. It quickly became apparent that this scheme exhibited some potential risks similar to those you might find in a pyramid scheme. Although, hey, it allegedly has just about every major vendor - from hotel chains to laptop makers - signed up. So I may be wrong. Time will tell.

Annoyingly, every question I asked was rebuffed with a call to let him first finish the presentation. And there were many questions. Are those vendors really signed up? Why do you have to be referred to join the scheme? What are these "virtual credits" that the user amasses by getting others to join? Couldn't the scheme be used for money laundering?

Already irked at being forced to switch from holiday mode to journalist mode, I called time on the conversation after being told I shouldn't be so skeptical, as journalists are supposed to have open minds. I replied that journalists also have fairly active bullshit detectors. Things went downhill from there.

Afterwards, my companion - who urged me to point out in this post that not all Brazilians are like that - told me I could have ended the conversation more politely. I'm not sure that would have been possible. But, if any of you can think of a polite way in which one can extricate oneself from a lengthy and dubious sales pitch from a Brazilian professional George Clooney lookalike in Geneva, please do let me know.

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