Mary Holm is on holiday until January 26. While she's away, we're publishing edited extracts from her new book — Rich Enough? A Laid-Back Guide for Every Kiwi.
Scammers have clever ways of making you feel everything is okay.
Here are some of them:
• They run ads in reputable publications, TV or radio. You might trust the paper or whatever, but their advertising salespeople don't have the time to check the credentials of advertisers.
• They use wording like: "It's completely legal", "approved by (a government agency or Consumer NZ or similar)". These are usually empty words. Note that the Government and Consumer NZ don't approve investments.
• They offer a money-back guarantee. But that's useful only if the company still exists when you want to claim. Even if they do still exist, they tell you that you haven't followed all the rules so the guarantee is not valid.
• They recommend that you check the investment with your lawyer or accountant — knowing that you'll probably think, "If they say that, the investment must be solid, so I won't bother". Do bother. And by the way, don't ever use the lawyer or accountant they provide. Even if they are qualified, they're hardly going to give you an unbiased view of an investment, with your interests at heart.
• They list impressive testimonials. But are the people real? And if they are, are they the promoters' relatives and friends?
• They offer referrals from "independent" offices or websites that aren't independent. If they say a reputable company recommends them, check with that company. I know of cases where the company says they've never heard of the promoter or the investment.
• They use classy-looking literature printed on high-quality paper. Anyone can do that, especially if they're making lots of money from fools.
• They guarantee that if you buy one of their units or apartments you will receive rent of at least $X for several years. The rent is high, and if it's guaranteed, the investment must be good, right? After the guarantee period ends, you discover the rent the tenant is actually paying is much lower. The promoter has been subsidising the rent, using a small portion of the profits it made because you paid over the top for the property.
• They create websites and even fake government authorities to give the impression that they are legitimate. I've seen some pretty convincing ones.
Mind you, not all fake websites are created by the bad guys. Check out www.howeycoins.com, which looks like it's offering a wonderful ICO (initial coin offering) investment. But if you click on "Buy Coins Now!' you land on the website of the US government's Securities and Exchange Commission, with the following message: 'If you responded to an investment offer like this, you could have been scammed — HoweyCoins are completely fake!" It's a great way of warning people.
• The nastiest of all — they befriend you, perhaps on a dating website. You correspond for some time, and may even have long phone conversations. You've found the love of your life, and will meet them in person soon, but they're overseas. Suddenly they email to say they're in a spot of bother, and could you possibly lend them some money, just for a short time. That's the last you hear of them — except perhaps for a request for further money.
Another "false friend" situation is when a real friend of yours, often a community or church leader, recommends an investment. It's been great for them, but it's a flop for you.
Has your friend lied to you? Probably not.
This is what is sometimes called affinity fraud. The promoter approaches the community leader and offers them a really good deal. The promoter then puts in plenty of their own money to make sure the leader gets great returns. It's an "investment" by the promoter, who can then rip off all the people the leader brings into the scheme.
This is a particularly horrible scenario. It must make the leader feel terrible. And it invites the rest of us to not trust our friends. Let's not let this stuff happen. Friends are great for many things, but not usually for hot investments.
• Rich Enough? A laid-back guide for every Kiwi by Mary Holm is published by HarperCollins New Zealand.