How To Spot An Investment Scam

I know of a lot of people who are very apprehensive or sceptical when it comes to investing; and a lot of the time this is due to the fact that they feel that it’s really a minefield out there- they are afraid of being scammed or losing all their money in a fake investment. So, what are some red flags to look out for? How can we spot an investment scam? Here are some things to look out for…

  • Guaranteed Profits

To me, this is THE MOST obvious and biggest red flag. Any ethical and licensed professional will tell you that all investments come with some risk. If you’ve read my previous articles, you will know that investments can and should be based on your own risk tolerance, and investment returns are never guaranteed. If an investment promises you guaranteed profits (usually at a high rate of return)…it’s most likely a scam.

  • Ridiculously High Returns, Usually In Short Periods Of Time

Ah, the second most obvious red flag. If someone tells you that your investment will make you high returns in a short period of time (like 40% a month), and that you have to get in or get out quick- it’s most likely too good to be true. Fixed deposits give returns of say 3%, endowments at about 3-4%, mutual funds can be around the 8% mark, and even stocks can give you average returns of 12%, all of which is on an annual basis. So this just shows how ridiculous and preposterous such returns on a monthly basis can be.

I always let my clients know that investments are long-term commitments, so if you want a ‘get rich quick scheme’, you are more likely to fall into the hands of a Ponzi scheme. What is a Ponzi scheme? This investment fraud model works by a person offering their first investors high returns on their initial investment. Then, they find new investors and give their money to the original investor, making it seem like their investment has legitimately grown. This continues by recruiting new investors to fund the old ones, whilst lining the scammers pocket with the excess. Once the scammer is unable to find new investors, the scam dries up, and the whole thing crashes. This is similar to a Pyramid scheme (more like a web than a pyramid), that promises quick returns. Those who are involved are incredibly vulnerable of losing it all.

  • They Use Telegram Or WhatsApp

Another, less obvious red flag is if you are given very little information about the investment or company themselves, but you are then added to various ‘investment group chats’, with people from different countries all discussing how the investment is going. Maybe there are members of the group that are hyping up the investment, encouraging those to buy more shares. Chances are they are using a ‘Pump and Dump’ method, whereby an individual drives up the price of an investment by encouraging others to buy, driving the price up. That person then sells, earning loads, and the overall investment crashes, causing everyone else to lose out.

  • Unwillingness to Explain Investment Strategies or Methods

If someone tells you that they have managed to obtain riches and live a life of luxury due to an investment, but are unwilling to share with you a concrete strategy for how to invest, chances are it’s not real. They may have rented the luxury items they flash, or their lifestyle is not as amazing as it seems. They use buzz words and generic concepts, instead of legitimate financial methods. They may promote high risk trading strategies, such as crypto or forex, without explaining the massive risk these can of investments entail, essentially convincing you to gamble with your money.

  • They Are Not Licensed

If all else fails, check whether the individual is licensed. In Singapore, financials are heavily regulated. Financial institutions should be regulated by the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and we have to have an RNF code that allows us to practice our business. In Singapore, there are very many regulations against foreign investors purchasing investment plans, to prevent money laundering, and professionals are not allowed to solicit advice unless it is in Singapore. Everything is also heavily documented; there is a lot of paperwork that is involved in Singapore investments. So, if someone promises you something quick and simple, with no paperwork and overseas transfer, or is unwilling to share they license code or business info…you guessed it…it’s a scam.

All in all, the age-old phrase, ‘it’s too good to be true’ is definitely the case when it comes to investments. If something is really going to make someone rich, quick, without little to no knowledge or effort, everyone would be doing it and we’d all be loaded, which clearly is not the case. The truth is, in Singapore, we have a very well-off population. And how do they get like this? By trusting professionals and financial institutions with their money, and using financial methods like dollar cost-averaging and holding long-term. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it- be weary of new companies or investments that promise you the world with little to no credentials to back it up.  

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