12 signs you're being scammed

KeyboardI'm used to rip-off firms phoning me, offering dodgy investments. But this week, someone called to speak to my wife.

She was at work so I asked for details. He said she was an active investor and would be interested in what he could offer.

Calling my wife an active investor is somewhere between foolish flattery and fantastic falsehood. She has many interests but finance is not top of the list. Her limit is the occasional look at Nationwide's interest rates.

The guy promised to call back. So far, he has not bothered. But I did manage to wheedle some details out of him, and take a look at his website.

This phone call lasted one minute. Now the probability is you won't be called by this firm. However, its method of entrapping the unaware is the same as every other phone-based investment fraud, so it does not matter which one calls.

Taken from this, here are my top 12 killer signs of a scam.

A call out of the blue
You are phoned out of the blue by an organisation you have never heard of. They will pretend to know a lot about you, mostly by clever questioning. No genuine investment company ever calls in this way – it is a practice banned by regulators Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).

The phantom firm
There is no record of the firm on the FCA online register.

But look out for clones which simply steal an identity or near-clones where they use the name of a well known regulated organisation but change one or two details. In the past, there have firms with names such as Barclays NatWest or Prudential Goldman. They are not real – but their victims are.

No track record
The firm claims years of experience but it has just one director who has only been there for a few months. Would you trust a firm with no track record?

Stock photos and no details
Websites follow a pattern – they promise a lot but deliver no detail. They usually feature stock pictures – either City of London views or, a growing trend, photos of sport events. The implication is that rowers or rugby players show class, endurance and effort.

Nameless staff
They talk about "breadth of experience and skills" but the "our people" page has no names (unless they are cloned). Real companies show key staff, offering biographies.

Talk a good game
They overclaim - ludicrously. They talk about "a dedication to complying fully with the letter and spirit of the laws, rules and ethical principles that govern us. Our continued success depends upon unswerving adherence to this standard."

They have no intention of following any such standards.

Jack of all scams
They offer a wide range of "alternative" investments, featuring carbon credits, wine, gold, commodities, diamonds, property and other asset classes, promising expertise in all.

Now who in their right mind would expect the jeweller and the wine merchant on the high street to be one and the same? This variety is there to impress – at any one time, they are only flogging one item to victims, using a script which always stresses demand exceeding supply (whether true or not and it's usually not).

Copy and paste
They claim an investment "process with insight". But it is a platitude such as "making the right investment decisions requires a rigorous, reliable and transparent process". Well, it's hard to argue otherwise. Equally, "we know that research provides the backbone to any investment opportunity. Our leading research team provides forward-thinking market analysis and research on a range of asset classes, such as energy, precious metals, biofuels and real estate."

Note that this section includes assets which are not on the main page and introduces others. This is real copy and paste stuff.

Honestly, I'm honest
They emphasise they are trustworthy. A genuine company has no need to do this.

So stuff like "Core values are, and will continue to be, providing the highest calibre services and investments for our clients. In doing so, both integrity and trustworthiness are central to our business and our relationships."

HMRC warns about fake tax credits emails

New York, Paris, Peckham
The firm claims branches just about everywhere – New York, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Dubai, Frankfurt for starters. It is never explained what these foreign subsidiaries do or how to contact them. And that's because they don't exist.

A contact page with no-one to contact
The contact page has no names. But it may also feature basic mistakes such as the address of a head office in the City accompanied by a location map of Mayfair. They can't both be right. Always look at the address – it is invariably a maildrop or an office you can rent by the day (if not the hour).

Investing by PayPal
The website features a "payment page" where you can use your credit card or PayPal to send money. Don't.

Remember, scam firms don't have to fail on every one of my dozen points. Just one is enough to set alarm bells ringing.

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Revealed: The 10 most common scams

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