Financial scams have always been around but their scale in today’s world is truly amazing – estimates of annual losses in the USA alone reach $120 billion.
The good news is that there are positive steps you can take to protect yourself, and perhaps the first and most important of these is getting to grips with the different types of “con” and how they work.
First question we ask ourselves therefore is “What is a ‘quick con’, and what distinguishes it from a ‘long con’?” Then – the really important bit – we look at what types of people are most vulnerable to the con artists. Make sure you aren’t one of them!
“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” (wise old adage)
In the USA, $40 billion is lost every year to scammers. When you consider statistics suggesting that 65% of scam victims don’t report their losses (usually they are too embarrassed to admit they have been conned), as much as $120 billion could annually be skimmed from gullible people.
Scammers normally target people who are financially vulnerable (they have lost their jobs or their business has folded) or they take advantage of economic downturns where a large percentage of people experience financial hardship.
The quick con
Typically, it is difficult to fully get to grips with the scheme they sell you as the scheme’s workings are hard to fully understand. But the conmen tell you that the real issue is you will get astronomical returns and they will show you for example pictures of yachts cruising in the Mediterranean – messaging you “this is the life you will lead once you have made your quick fortune”.
Because they prey on the financially vulnerable, the conmen spin conspiracy theories – the reason you have fallen on hard times is the system has crushed you and this scheme bypasses all the financial regulation “nonsense” – and the like.
Conmen are also hard salesmen and they will pressurise you into making this “investment”.
The long con
You need to be really careful of these as you are up against some sophisticated operators. The main principle is to get assurance from people in your social circle that the scammer or the scheme is credible and achieves high returns (these people are wittingly or unwittingly part of the con). In addition, the scammers can point you to well-known financial experts who will vouch for the scheme (they typically are part of the con).
It is usually a Ponzi scheme which will operate successfully until no new funds come into the scheme. It then unravels very quickly, and the vast bulk of investors lose their investments.
Another type of scam is “pump and dump” where salesmen extol a little-known share, and this drives the price up. These salesmen make aggressive pitches to unsuspecting victims who get carried away by the upward momentum of the share. Once the share has gone way over its value, the conmen sell it short (the dump of the scheme) and the share price collapses.
Who is vulnerable to these scammers?
Strangely enough it is often well-to-do people (usually men) who are experiencing financial stress and are happy to take on risk. These people are well educated and financially literate.
The combination of factors that makes them gullible is (apart from being under financial stress):
- Being put under pressure by the conmen (they need to get in “before it’s too late” and their friends “are making a killing”)
- The scheme can be complex or opaque and so they rely on their intuition
- Most of these people are decent and trusting, so they tend to believe the conmen and they don’t want to let the conmen down (no doubt the scammers are aware of this vulnerability)
- Greed is a very powerful emotion and can lead to impulsive decisions which you will regret later.
Sir Isaac Newton was a great genius, but he lost all his money in the South Sea Bubble scam in the 1720’s.
So before you get caught up in a scam step back and think rationally. You should also analyse yourself and if you have any of the above traits, then be very careful of any investments that are “too good to be true”.
This article is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied upon as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your financial adviser for specific and detailed advice. Errors and omissions excepted (E&OE)