Are you vulnerable to investment fraud?

There is no “typical” victim of fraud. Professional scam artists go where the money is, which means that if you have money to invest, you’re vulnerable to fraud. Remember, you don’t have to be wealthy to be scammed. One-third of fraud victims are scammed for less than $1,000. Another third  are taken for between $1,000 and $5,000.

Most successful scams are built on trust. Scam artists often start off by asking seemingly harmless questions about your health, family or hobbies. For example, they may discover that you worry about not having enough money to retire on. They then use this info to push you into making a choice that is not in your best interest.

Here are just a few common ways a scam artist may try to get you to part with your money.

Through a group you belong to

Affinity fraud is a type of scam that targets groups such as religious groups, seniors’ groups, ethnic communities or social clubs. The scam artist may be a member of the group or may know someone in the group. These scams are often successful because many people are less likely to question advice that comes from someone they know.

A common type of affinity fraud is the pyramid (or Ponzi) scheme. Typically, investors are recruited through promises of high returns. Early investors often receive returns fairly quickly from “interest cheques.” They may be so pleased with their returns that they re-invest, or recruit friends and family as new investors.

Here’s the catch: the investment doesn’t exist. The “interest cheques” are paid from investors’ own money and the contributions of new investors. The scheme eventually collapses when it runs out of new investors.

Unsolicited e-mail or phone call

Many scams begin with spam e-mails that promote a certain stock. These e-mails typically promote risky investments for which there’s little information available. You may also get an unsolicited phone call about an investment opportunity. The caller may ask you questions about yourself and use the answers to manipulate you into a quick sale. They’ll also use high-pressure tactics, like repeat calls or limited-time offers.

The business may sound real. The caller might give you an address in the financial district, or direct you to a toll-free number or a website that looks legitimate for more information. However, the information on their website may be fake, and the address they give you may be nothing more than a post office box.

Be skeptical of any stock tips you get from unsolicited e-mail or phone calls. It’s a good idea to assume the tip is a scam until you’ve done your own research on the investment. You should never accept investment advice from someone you don’t know, who doesn’t know you or your financial goals.

Investment seminars

Investment seminars have become a popular way of promoting investments. The investments themselves may not be scams, but the sales tactics used at these seminars often raise concerns.

Some presenters are paid to promote specific investments that offer high returns. They may not tell you that these products are risky and may not be appropriate for you. The presenters are usually very good at public speaking and generating excitement about the investment. They’ll use high-pressure sales tactics to get you to invest on the spot or to schedule a follow-up appointment.

What can you do?

As already mentioned, a professional scam artist goes where the money is. So, while these are some of the more common tactics used to run a scam, they are not the only methods. Always be on your guard. Investigate before you invest. Do your research, check with another trusted adviser, check a new adviser’s registration. And remember, if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is.

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