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Category Fraud/Crime
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If only…

14 December 2004 Angelo Coppola

Russel Michaels, spokesperson at the FSB, provides some clues to spotting a potential swindler.

Techniques swindlers use include:

High pressure sales tactics - generally a stubborn reluctance to take "no" for an answer. "Some of these pushy and determined investment swindlers come to your home and you often do not know how to get rid of them," Michaels says.

Others are so helpful and friendly you may feel you don't want to let them down by saying no; still others try to intimidate or bully you by making you feel foolish if you are reluctant to fall in with their plans.

* Insistence on an immediate decision - they always give a reason why delay would cost you money (there are only a few opportunities left, you could miss out on a huge profit, the offer is about to expire, and so on).

Remember, urgency is important to a swindler, Michaels says. Almost anything which is really a good deal today will still be a good deal tomorrow. The real reason why the swindler is in such a hurry is that he doesn't want you to have time to check him out too closely.

* Promises of huge profits - not too big to make you laugh, but big enough to intrigue you.

"He may mention a profit figure he thinks you will consider believable and then, as a further enticement, suggest that the potential profit is actually far greater than that."

The oldest advice around is still the soundest, Michaels says: "An offer that sounds too good to be true, probably is."

If someone is offering spectacularly better returns than others in the business, there are only two possible explanations, he says: either your money will be invested in high-risk, high-return ventures which are as likely to wipe out your savings as to pay the promised dividends; or the person selling you the investment is planning a one-way trip out of the country soon.

* Promises of no risk or very little risk - swindlers often become impatient if you so much as raise the question of risk, Michaels says. Yet all investments have some degree of risk.

Other signals which should trigger an alarm in your mind are:

* A request for your credit card number - "for information", for "verification" that you have won something or merely as "an expression of good faith" on your part. Don't do it - if you do, you are almost sure to find unauthorised deductions from your account;

* An offer to send someone to your home or office to pick up the money;

A statement that something is "free", followed by a requirement that you pay something, often disguised as a "handling" or "administration" charge; and

* Too much talk about "trust".

Remember, Michaels says, that a reputable supplier of investments will encourage you to ask questions, to find out as much as you can and to be comfortable with your investment, and he or she generally won't push you to make a quick decision.

Swindlers, on the other hand, hate questions and one way to sort them out is to ask plenty of questions. But even that may not work, Michaels says.

No matter how persistently or skillfully you pose the questions, experienced investment swindlers are at least as skilled in evading them, in providing dishonest answers and in bringing the conversation back to the "tremendous profit opportunity" they are offering you.

Investigate the person making the offer before you take action.

"Investors must check out the credentials of service providers with the FSB either by contacting our call centre toll-free on 0800 202087 or 0800 110443 or by going to our website http://www.fsb.co.za/

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