MONEY

Scam Alert! Investment Cons to Watch out for Now

You’d never fall for an email hawking shares in a diamond mine in Nigeria, but what if your own trusted broker tried to sell you a stake in a vodka enterprise in Moscow?

You might not be so suspicious. These so-called “off the book deals” — offered by an adviser you consider reliable, in an off-the-record kind of way — are among this year’s top investor traps, according to the National American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA).

(And FYI, a broker in Missouri was indeed busted last March for allegedly selling shares in a Russian vodka stand deal and raising $2 million.)

Other ploys to watch out for:

  • Green Schemes Con artists often sell phony investments that play on hot news topics. This year, more people seem to be falling for green energy fraud, says Bob Webster, a spokesperson for NASAA. “People have a renewed interest in alternative energy sources, thanks to the Gulf oil spill, and scammers are taking advantage of that.”
  • Friendly Fake-outs Bernard Madoff perfected this con, often known as affinity fraud: The scam artist targets respected members of a community (company, golf club, church, etc.) with an investment product. “The investment pays off as promised — then they go back out and tell their friends in good faith: Hey, this worked for me,” says Webster.

How to protect yourself from con games? “Always verify any investment opportunity, no matter who is pitching it to you,” says Webster. To check whether a certain investment product — or the person selling it — is properly licensed, contact your local securities regulator. And even if you’re convinced that you’d never be so gullible, take NASAA’s investor awareness quiz. Just in case.

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