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Elevate CUApr 30, 2024 9:30:00 AM2 min read

Don't Get Caught in an Investment Scam

Investments are rarely without risk – not just the fundamental risk. Investing also brings the risk of falling prey to a scam. Investment scams can include promises of high returns for super-low investments that never materialize, scammers posing as financial planners offering useless advice for a hefty fee, and illegal securities offered as IRA investments. However, the most common investment scam is the Ponzi scheme.

Let’s look at this scam and how you can avoid falling victim.

What is a Ponzi scheme?

The orchestrator promises high returns in a Ponzi scheme, often through a fictitious investment opportunity or business venture. Instead of using investments to generate profit, the scammer uses these funds to pay returns to prior investors. The scheme grows, with more investors joining and the scammers at the top of the pyramid making the most money. Eventually, it all comes toppling, with investors losing tons of money.

How to spot a Ponzi scheme

Watch for these red flags of a Ponzi scheme:

  1. Unrealistic returns: Ponzi schemes promise consistently high returns far exceeding market averages and legitimate investment opportunities.
  2. Lack of transparency: Scammers may provide vague or evasive explanations regarding the source of returns or underlying investment strategy, making it difficult for investors to assess the opportunity's legitimacy.
  3. Promises of exclusivity: Ponzi schemes often use tactics like exclusivity or invitation-only to create a sense of privilege and allure.
  4. Pressure to recruit new investors: If an investment opportunity requires you to recruit friends and family members as new participants, you’ve likely stumbled upon a Ponzi scheme.
  5. Unregistered or unlicensed operators: Legitimate investment professionals and firms are registered or licensed with regulatory authorities and adhere to strict compliance standards.
  6. Lack of audited financial statements: Ponzi schemes generally lack verifiable financial records or provide falsified documentation to create the illusion of credibility.

Protect yourself from Ponzi schemes

Ponzi schemes are fairly common, but with some knowledge and awareness, you can prevent yourself from falling victim. Here’s how to protect yourself from Ponzi schemes:

  • Research every investment opportunity carefully, including the background of the individuals or companies involved and the legitimacy of the investment strategy.
  • Consult a trusted financial advisor or investment professional before making investment decisions.
  • Diversify your investments across different asset classes, industries, and geographical regions.
  • Stay informed and educate yourself about common investment scams and warning signs of fraudulent activity.

Stay alert, and stay safe!

If you enjoyed this article, you can find more like it on our MoneySmart Tips blog.