I am contacting you as last year was one of those years I would like to forget.
I had some money in the bank and wanted to invest it to create a better passive income. I had done some research and was keen to try binary trading. This is when it all went wrong.
I invested US$10,000 in (let's call it Dodgy Co), and within three weeks had turned it into $120,000, so was feeling very pleased.
A young bloke gave me lessons on the phone on how to make more money, and I also gave him access to my computer via AnyDesk. This is how he showed me where to go and what to do. While he was helping me, I lost most of that money and now have $3.50 in that account.
Not wanting to put all my eggs into one basket, I had started trading with (Highly Suspect Co), which was going very well, so I decided to invest $100,000, not understanding the whole company is a fraud.
At the time it had my trust, even though I was very cautious. I did trading with it for nine months.
My trading account shows all trades done — win and loss. With each winning trade, the company takes out a percentage for its fees. This could be 20, 25, 15 or sometimes 30 per cent. I added the fees up and they come to over $500,000 on paper for the company. My account was only $144,000.
If you lost the trade, you lost all of that money on the trade. I did feel afterwards the company was trying to manipulate me to invest more money so kept stringing me along. Then the main guy I was dealing with did a trade with the total amount on Bitcoin, and I lost the lot.
Understanding that I was not even trading on the stock exchange but just a generated program of its own, which it had total control over, makes me feel like a total fool. The company will not refund the money I have left. I have been trying for four months now to no avail.
I have been contacted by an Israeli company to recover the money, but feel this is a fraud running alongside the other. Your views and help would be appreciated. I am happy to get this out there so others do not make the same mistake.
Gulp. What a nightmare!
My immediate concern on reading your letter was that you gave a man from Dodgy Co access to your computer. So I asked the consumer protection people in the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment if that's a worry.
"While the consumer protection helpline has not reported any complaints regarding AnyDesk specifically, remote access scams have been occurring for some time and consumers are advised to be mindful of how they work," says Mark Hollingsworth, the ministry's manager of consumer protection.
"Scammers attempt to gain access to your PC through a remote access application. Then they search your computer for personal information, which could be used to steal money or commit identity fraud. While remote access applications, like AnyDesk, may be verified online platforms themselves, consumers are advised to be vigilant with whom they might choose to share remote access, and only do it with people they know and trust.
"There's very little protection against scammers if they have access to your computer, as many could be doing it from untraceable locations overseas. If you think you have been scammed, report it to the police."
Consumer protection's advice on avoiding remote access scams:
• "Do not engage with anyone who you don't know who offers to fix your computer or install software.
• "Contact a reputable listed technician if you need help with your computer.
• "Use different passwords for different online accounts, and consider two-factor authentication."
But you already know this now, as I sent you this advice as soon as I received it. So let's move on to the binary options companies.
I've changed their names so I'm not sued. But I'm pretty sure they're not solid. Why?
When I googled the name of each company plus "scam", a lot of responses came up.
It's not a bad idea to do this if you're considering investing in any company. But don't be impressed if some official-looking links say the investment is sound, or that other similar investments are fine — "and why don't you invest in these instead?" Some people out there in the internet world could convince a mother to give up her firstborn.
It's also good to check what Wikipedia says about any type of investment. On binary options, it says they "are prone to fraud and banned by regulators in many jurisdictions as a form of gambling".
I strongly recommend that readers avoid investments in binary options, foreign exchange, bitcoin or anything else if you can't understand how wealth is generated.
As I said in this column late last year, "With bonds, someone pays me interest for the use of my money, plus extra to compensate for the risk I've taken investing in them. With shares, I get a share of the company's profits, plus a gain if the profits are expected to increase. With investment property, I get rent, plus a gain that ultimately reflects expected growth in rent."
With many other so-called investments, there's no new wealth. One "investor" gets richer because another gets poorer. In many cases, most or all "investors" get poorer except the people running the scheme.
Oh, you'll read about — and maybe know — ordinary people who have made heaps. But it will be a set-up. The schemers let a few people do really well at the start, to entice others. Or — as in your case — it seems you've made heaps on paper, but it's a different matter when you want the money in your bank account.
What should you do now? Given that one company seems to be based in Bulgaria and the other in Estonia, I don't like your chances of getting any money back. Nor would I follow up with the Israeli company.
I bet it will ask you for money before it gives you any back — if it ever does. When you think about it, how is an Israeli company going to force a Bulgarian or Estonian company to cough up? Even if they were in the same country, how can a private company force another to pay without spending lots on litigation? And who do you think will pay for that?
Says the New Zealand Government's Scamwatch website, "Some scammers target people caught in recent scams — for example by pretending to be an overseas enforcement agency that can return all of your money for a fee. Don't give money to anyone on the promise they will get your lost money back."
For more good advice, see Scamwatch at tinyurl.com/scamNZ. Among other things, it tells you how to report if you've been scammed.
Beyond that, though, put this behind you — knowing that two good things have come of it:
You've learnt lots.
You've warned others. Thanks so much for doing that.
P.S. When I was googling the companies that scammed you, up came a box of the sort that usually contains an ad. But instead, it said, "Sorry you cannot be advertised to." How did I get so lucky?
I must say, though, that I'm sick of binary option ads coming up now whenever I'm on the internet. Wish we could somehow say "I'm not searching this topic because I want it!"
You'll get your interest
I recently transferred $33,000 from my savings account to an investment fund with my bank (the ANZ). The money was withdrawn from my savings account immediately but, because of the Christmas break, it was a week before the funds were deposited into my investment account.
The bank says I'm not due any interest for the week it had use of my money. I think this stinks. What's the bank's responsibility when it comes to paying interest when it's making money on my funds?
"Not again!", I thought when I read your email. A letter in my first column last year was similar, but that involved transferring money from one bank to another. It's got to be much simpler within a bank. So I asked ANZ what was going on.
"Such transactions have a processing time of three business days, and this customer's transaction was processed within that time," said a spokesman.
"The transfer isn't instant because the money is moved to a holding account overnight where it is aggregated with money from other customers. Once aggregated, the funds are transferred to the investment account in one go, rather than individually (which is administratively complex given the sheer number of these transactions)."
Okay, but what about interest in the meantime? "ANZ doesn't benefit from any interest earned during that time as any interest earned is paid to the destination fund and forms part of the fund's investment return," said the spokesman.
I replied, "Would it be accurate to say that the customer actually does get interest on the money. When the next returns on his investment fund are attributed to his account, it will be a wee bit higher because his $33,000 was sitting in the holding account for a few days?"
Yes, said the spokesman, "members benefit from any interest earned on the account".
Still, whoever you spoke to at the bank wasn't too good on the communications.
Needle in a haystack
There was a very interesting item in your last column on increases in house sizes over time, even excluding today's common internal garages. But not all people can get the house size they want.
As two people nearing retirement, we wanted to downsize, and a smaller house can be hard to find in your preferred area. Luckily we did.
With sections in Auckland over $500,000 in most areas, they always build big houses to get more profit. So smaller houses are scarce unless 80 years old, and who wants that maintenance cost? Scarce smaller houses may increase in price from demand of an ignored sector — not good.
But I found it strange to see how many four-bedroom houses have only one bathroom.
Surely that size needs two and perhaps an en suite for a full-size family?
When I was a kid, nearly every family — including some with many children — had just one bathroom. How did we manage in the mornings? But standards have changed. On your other point, someone's got to realise there's a buck to be made building three smaller homes on two sections.
Bigger since 1950s
The 1940s is not a good comparison for today's houses, as the size was artificially restricted due to government rules and shortages of building materials for civilian use during World War II. These restrictions on size of houses and use of materials continued for some years after the war.
Good point, which is confirmed on www.qv.co.nz. "House sizes were relatively stable up until the 1930s and 1940s when the depression and war led to slightly smaller houses being built," says the website.
Still, the trend after that is clear. "Since the 1950s house sizes have steadily increased, with particularly rapid growth between 1980 and 2010," it says.
- Mary Holm is a freelance journalist, a director of the Financial Markets Authority and Financial Services Complaints Ltd (FSCL), a seminar presenter and a bestselling author on personal finance. Her website is www.maryholm.com. Her opinions are personal, and do not reflect the position of any organisation in which she holds office. Mary's advice is of a general nature, and she is not responsible for any loss that any reader may suffer from following it. Send questions to email@example.com or Money Column, Private Bag 92198 Victoria St West, Auckland 1142. Letters should not exceed 200 words. We won't publish your name. Please provide a (preferably daytime) phone number. Sorry, but Mary cannot answer all questions, correspond directly with readers, or give financial advice.