In 2016, a new way to trade cryptocurrency was introduced – BitConnect. By using BitConnect, users could “lend” their current Bitcoin holdings to BitConnect in exchange for new coins (Bitconnect Coin or BCC) that would earn interest during the life of the loan. Sounds good in theory, right? Of course, theory is all that existed – BitConnect was actually a ponzi scheme with no hard assets and no license to issue securities. Known as a high-yield investment program (HYIP), BitConnect paid initial investors huge profits from the cash brought in by new clients. The scam eventually ran out of money and BitConnect Coin crashed more than 90% in a single day. In an instant, $2.5 billion vanished and investors were left with worthless tokens.
Financial scams are all around us and even educated money managers are susceptible to them. And with the rise of unregulated markets like cryptocurrency and forex, scammers have more playgrounds than ever to lurk around in. Money makes us emotional, which is why financial scammers will never go away. But that doesn’t mean you can’t protect yourself.
Today’s Most Common Financial Scams
Fraud is inevitable. Federal laws have made it more difficult to pull off financial scams, but you can’t outlaw dishonesty. Scammers persist, especially in unregulated markets like Binary options, forex, and cryptocurrencies. Here’s a few common scams to watch out for today.
Market Gurus – Amateur traders are everywhere on social media and many start a “service” to provide recommendations on stocks, currency pairs, etc. These gurus charge either an upfront or monthly fee for their “service” and proceed to recommend loser after loser (if they don’t disappear entirely). Like professional stock pickers, some gurus may beat the market in the short-term, but most only profit by collecting fees from unsuspecting “clients”.
Fake Forex / Binary Options Brokers – Currency markets trade all over the globe 24 hours a day. They’re also notoriously unregulated and rife with scammers looking for victims. Many of these scammers pose as reputable (but offshore) brokers offering great deals. After happily accepting customer deposits, these brokers refuse to honor withdrawals and do everything possible to keep the funds tied up. Some even purposely orchestrate losing trades for clients!
Cryptocurrency Scams – Fraud with crypto comes in all shapes and sizes. Fake wallets, fake brokers, and even fake coins have taken real money from investors. Cryptocurrency losses have almost no way of being recovered either. Use only a trusted broker to buy crypto.
Online Dating Scams – A modern take on the Nigerian Prince scam, these crooks message unsuspecting marks behind the profile of a potential partner. Always using attractive model-quality photos, these scammers convince their victims that they’re interested in meeting up, but lost their passport / bank card / cellphone and just need a little bit of cash to get it back. Once the eager victim sends the cash in hopes of meeting the attractive stranger, they disappear.
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The Psychology of Scammers
Financial advisor Ben Carlson recently released a book titled “Don’t Fall For It: A Short History of Financial Scams”. According to Carlson, scammers are storytellers – they’re not selling product but an experience or an opportunity. The story may promise untold wealth, a miracle cure, or access to power, but the main point is always the same. The scammer finds something the mark fears and exploits it.
Fear comes in many forms – fear of illness or death, fear of consequences, or even good old fashioned fear of missing out. Financial scams almost always involve some form of high-pressure sales or knee-jerk thinking. Phrases like “once in a lifetime opportunity” or “this deal won’t be here tomorrow” are often clues that a scammer is attempting to appeal to your emotions and blur your rational thinking.
Everyone likes to think they’re rational and would never fall for the Nigerian Prince or Spanish Prisoner gag, but money makes even the most rational person prone to emotional decision-making. In fact, highly-educated and successful people might be MORE prone to scams than their less polished peers. Even those assigned to protect us, like public accounting firms and SEC regulators fall for financial sleight-of-hand. Human beings aren’t robots. We’re emotional creatures prone to illogical decision-making, especially when someone with a nice smile promises us the deal of a lifetime.
How to Protect Yourself From Financial Fraud
Thinking you’re impervious to financial scams is asking for trouble. It doesn’t just happen to grandma and grandpa anymore. Young and old, rich and poor, masters degrees and high school diplomas – all are equally susceptible to fraud. To avoid scams, take the following steps:
Be cautious of anyone offering exclusive or time-sensitive deals. Scammers love to apply pressure and force their victims into ill-advised decisions. Remember this timeless advice: if it sounds too good to be true, it always is.
Don’t be afraid to ask for credentials. Not only do advisors work long hours and take difficult exams to earn their CFP or CFA licenses, but it also guarantees they act as fiduciaries.
Have a plan in case you are a victim of fraud. Companies like Funds Recovery work to get your money back from scammers quickly and without hassle. If you’ve fallen prey to financial fraud, contact Funds Recovery and file a complaint.