The recent investing environment, which has seen a huge slump in returns in 2008, may make some especially anxious to jump on opportunities that promise large returns in a short time. People who are approaching or who have just started retirement may be particularly at risk if they have a big shortfall in funds needed for their retirement years since they may not have other means to make up the deficit.
How then can one spot a scam and more important, avoid being taken in?
Scam Spotting - don't take it from this blogger whom you do not really know, take it from known trustworthy verifiable sources (get the hint?!), which have excellent guides to scams like Ponzi and Pyramid schemes, or those involving legitimate-sounding investments such as exempt securities, forex, offshore investments, prime bank notes, gold and silver mines, oil wells, coins and precious metals, RRSP or Locked-in RSP tax-free withdrawal.
The sources below also review typical inducements and techniques used by the fraudsters: no-risk and high return, insider tips and get-in-now-before-it's-too-late, high pressure sales, investment seminars (such events are not necessarily fraud vehicles), invitations to invest with the smart/expert money, pressure to do like your friends/social group/church (especially odious IMHO) and a need for secrecy.
- Investored.ca (site sponsored by the regulatory Ontario Securities Commission) How do I know that I'm investing in a safe place?
- State of Hawaii - How to Spot an Investment Scam
- Government of Canada's Office of Consumer Affairs Scam/Fraud page including online quiz to measure your own susceptibility
- Canadian Securities Administrators Avoiding Fraud page, including Scam artists pursue adults over 50
- The Canadian Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Other Fraud by Graham Waters and Gary Ford from Insomniac Press is worth reading for its broad coverage, including online and investment scams
Though the above documents and websites contain many useful tips to follow, antidotes also need to consider a few surprising findings in the Exeter study: scam victims report that they analyzed scam content more than non-victims; scam victims are more likely to be taken in again for another scam and victims in general are not poor decision makers and are often successful in their professional or business field. Victims often have an inkling and a gut feeling that things are not right or as promised - but they go ahead anyway!
The reason according to psychiatrist David Krueger in his recent book The Secret Language of Money is that scams only work with our willing participation. That's due to our emotional vulnerabilities. Our fantasies, our need to be special, to appear knowledgeable/ not look stupid, to belong, to cooperate and obey legitimate authority, to be taken care of, our susceptibility to impulse and our desire to put one over sabotage our judgement by allowing the emotional parts of our brain to overwhelm the rational part.
- trust your gut instinct, it's usually right
- ask yourself what you could lose, not what you could gain; ask what could go wrong
- ask yourself why you are the chosen lucky one to participate in this investment
- if this is such a sure-fire scheme, why isn't everyone else doing it?
- ask yourself if the scheme is too good to be true
- always give yourself a time gap before acting; make it a rule to sleep on it
- talk to someone else you trust who is neutral, not familiar or involved with the idea and run it by them
- question the authority and genuineness of the person contacting you - how do I know you are who you say you are? - invoke your sceptical self
- become a little paranoid because the assumption that you are too smart or informed to be conned can be an Achilles heel
- when in a times of personal crisis, such as divorce, job loss, death in the family or economic downturn, vulnerability to the urge to have someone take care of you is greater - be aware of that, tell yourself that and confront the feeling as the illusion it is
Disclaimer: this post is my opinion only and should not be construed as investment advice or recommendations.