O n November 21, 2019, 25-year-old Recep Ataş stepped onto a shooting range in the Istanbul suburb of Başakşehir. He fired several rounds at the target, before suddenly aiming the weapon directly against his heart and pulling the trigger. The single shot killed him.
The next day, Ataş’ father told local media that his son was depressed — a large bank loan loomed over him. The money Ataş had borrowed evaporated after he’d invested it in Farm Bank, a smartphone app similar to the once-popular Facebook game Farmville. But unlike Farmville, Farm Bank had a real-world twist.
Launched in 2016, Farm Bank was billed as a way for players to “win as they play, and have fun as they win,” and encouraged them to invest in what they thought was actual livestock and agricultural land. Spurred on by friends and relatives, who claimed to have received returns on their investments, thousands of people rushed to put their money in Farm Bank. In actuality, Farm Bank was a smartphone-based pyramid scheme.
At first, users paid real money for the upkeep of virtual chickens, sheep, bees, and cattle, earning cash back in the game by keeping the animals alive. Players were also given a small cut of the profits for bringing in new players.