My best friend, the scammer


Someone by the name of Charles phones to remind me that he is my very best friend. Charles who? Well, when someone calls and addresses you by your first name, claiming that he and I are the closest of comrades and you have no clue what he is talking about, you are allowed a few questions.

Charles said we spoke last December and that I failed to take up his offer of shares in a company quoted on the second market in Frankfurt, where stocks are so lightly regulated that it makes the United States' Pink Sheets look blue chip by contrast.

A missed opportunity
Naturally, I cannot remember all phone calls from nearly a year ago. So he reminded me that it was a mining company and, had I followed his advice, the share would have multiplied twenty fold.

Apparently it was mining gold, or silver, or copper, or something – Charles was quite unclear except that I had given up the chance of a lifetime.

"Why was that?", he asked, attempting to probe my investments strategy, while trying to convince me that he was the fount of all market knowledge.

As I could not remember the original conversation, and because I am always polite, I mumbled something about being sorry and I hoped it would not happen again. His tone seemed to brighten, indicating that he had forgiven me for my lapse in not trusting him implicitly and explicitly.

I later looked up the stock and yes, it had soared from €0.05 to €1.05. But that was just on paper, which is about all the mine ever was. It was a stock which only had buyers – mainly from Charles and his mates – so it was bound to do well. The shares came from Charles and his mates, who probably printed them to order.

Shares like this collapse as soon as a few investors try to cash in, however. There is no market for them because there is no reality to the stock. Once investors try to sell, the price goes all the way back to a euro cent or two because there are no longer any buyers.

But now that Charles had gained my attention, my gratitude (for pointing out the mining company even if I was so stupid that I did not buy tens of thousands of pounds worth) and – so he thought – won my trust, it was on to the next pitch.

Make money from war!
"I only call clients when we have something new to say – something to solve their financial difficulties. I have an opportunity which I am only going to share with a few selected clients," he said.

I didn't know I was a client of Charles – let alone a favoured one – but I let that pass.

Now for the "opportunity" stock. It was a bet on the improving situation in Syria (and more generally the Middle East) turning tragically bad again.

It went like this. "Don't be deceived. This better situation in Syria won't last. Then it will turn really bloody again. The markets have lulled themselves into the belief that no one will be sending rockets over Damascus. They're wrong and you could earn big from the war. As soon as the Americans start to fire on Syria, petrol prices will soar. So here's a stock to get into."

He then suggested I put £10,000 to £20,000 into a company I had never heard of, whose shares were quoted at a few cents a time on the Frankfurt second market.

He almost certainly had a big supply for which he had paid a tiny fraction of a cent each – assuming the shares he was selling were real and not just a product of his printer.

But the strange thing was that the company had nothing to do with oil. It had virtually no balance sheet or assets other than a small metals smelting operation and a number of holdings in mining companies, which were each as non-producing of profits as it was. Almost certainly, all these companies owned stakes in each other with none ever likely to hit gold.

Charles, who phoned from a UK mobile number, promised to email me more details and contact me again "within two days". He has done neither. I am not really surprised. Had I fallen for his patter, I would now have a large number of worthless shares.

But I would not bet against his calling again sometime next summer, when he will once assume the role of my newest and bestest friend.

Revealed: The 10 most common scams

Revealed: The 10 most common scams