"In our culture”, says Robert Brent Toplin, a history professor at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington, we are not that concerned about [being scammed]; it's not usually on our radar screens."
When we read about Wesley Snipes, Sylvester Stallone and Martin Scorsese being taken for millions in a Ponzi Scheme (New York Daily News May 2010) or Baseball great Rondell White being scammed in a multi-million dollar securities and real estate investment fraud (September 2010), all too often our reaction is that “it could never happened to me.”
Large or small, millions or hundreds, investment scams have been around since the beginning of time. It's not hard to find historic examples of scams. You can call central casting, and order up conquerors and criminals, kings and their consorts, religious pretenders and robber barons, political bosses and Wall Streeters to fill out more than one top-10 list.
Consumer Reporting Crime Statistics in conjunction with the Federal Burereu of Investigation report that the number of complaints involving scams has increased 58% from 2000-2009!
The top ten list of Investment Scams for 2010 as stated by North American Securities Administrators Association are:
1. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs). While ETFs resemble mutual funds in many respects, some, have potential for extreme volatility making them a trap for the unwary investor
2. Foreign Exchange Trading Schemes. Currency trading and foreign exchange (forex) trading schemes rank as No: 2. Watch out for anyone trying to get you to invest in currency trading as the commissions are huge and often times not disclosed.
3. Gold and Precious Metals. Coming in at number 3 is Investments in Gold. High gold prices have trapped some investors in gold bullion scams in which a seller offers to retain “purchased” gold in a “secure vault” and promises to sell the gold for the investor when it gains in value. In most instances the gold does not exist. The paperwork looks perfect and authentic.
4. Green Schemes. Investment opportunities tied to the development of new energy-efficient “green” technologies are increasingly popular with investors and scammers alike. It is easy to check investments in these types of opportunities. Watch out for friends and neighbors who recommend the investment. They may not even know they have been scammed as well. Papers showing dividends and returns you have achieved and sent to you each month on paper are easy to create, look legitimate and lead you into a false sense of assurance.
5. Oil & Gas Schemes. Regardless of the price at the pump, fraudulent energy promoters continue to capitalize both on interest in the commodity and on oil and gas as investment alternatives to the stock market. Any investment with these words on it should raise a red flag. Oil Scams have been around for well over 100 years.
6. Affinity Fraud. Scam artists have found it lucrative to abuse membership or association with an identifiable group to convince a potential investor to trust the legitimacy of the investment. Typical affinity groups include religious, ethnic, professional, educational, language, age and any other group with shared characteristics that allow investors to trust members of the group.
7. Undisclosed Conflicts of Interest. When obtaining investment advice about securities, investors need to know that not all advice is given with their best interest at heart. Some salespeople can receive lucrative commissions when they sell a product that is risky or inappropriate for an investor, but don’t have to disclose that financial incentive. Investors should demand that anyone giving advice or recommendations disclose how they are compensated.
8. Private or Special Deals. Watch for investment opportunities or deals couched as “private” or only for “special” clients. While securities laws do offer businesses the opportunity to raise capital by selling securities to a relatively small number of investors in a non-public offering, these securities are not subject to the same review as others.
9. “Off the Books” Deals. “Off the books” sales are an increasingly common threat to investors. Be cautious if your broker offers an investment on the side instead of one sold through his or her employer.
10. Unsolicited Online Pitches. Promoters of fraudulent investment schemes are moving beyond e-mail and turning to social media and online communities, such as Facebook, Twitter, Craigslist and YouTube to solicit unsuspecting investors.
How do you recognize a Scam? The age old wisdom may be a start: “If it looks too good to be true it probably is.” From there you need to do independent research and investigation. Know who you are dealing with before you hand over your money.