There’s been a lot of media talk over the last 2-3 months following the release of The Tinder Swindler on Netflix. How did these educated, smart women fall for the charms of Simon Leviev and end up giving him hundreds of thousands of euros? Unfortunately, it happens. Attempted scams are happening in different ways every day of the week now, and the key is to have your radar up and be naturally suspicious of any interaction with your money and a third party.
These scams are becoming more ingenious and harder to detect, so I’d like to give you a quick reminder of some of the most common ones. We all think “I’d never fall for that”, but people do – every day.
Of course, The Tinder Swindler was playing on the heart strings of the unfortunate women who fell prey to him. In their case, love clouded their judgement. I say it so often in my advice to clients, that emotions and investing are very poor bedfellows. Usually I’m not talking about the danger of love, but instead I’m referring to the two most common enemies of investors – greed and fear.
Time and again I’ve seen the dangers of investments that seem perfectly “normal”, but the anticipated returns are significantly in excess of those on offer elsewhere. Supposedly clever property investments in foreign markets that offer very high returns are a common trap. We all think that we understand the property market, and the risk is that our own biases cloud our judgement. It becomes too easy to ignore an often-complex investment structure that you don’t really understand, as the promised outcomes “confirm” your view of the attractiveness of a market.
Be very careful, this is the time to really dig deeply into the regulatory status of the provider(s) and the product. Make sure that all the fundamental elements are in place and that you have a deep and complete understanding of what you are investing in. If something looks too good to be true, it usually is just that.
The helpful phone call
OK, the days of falling for the “you’ve got a virus on your computer, and I’ll help you fix it” are hopefully behind us all. These basic scams have now progressed to calls supposedly from your bank of from Revenue, attempting to get you to log on to your computer. The scammer then tries to get you to either reveal sensitive data or download some malicious code that will give them access to your machine. Most people spot these a mile off, but unfortunately some less aware or elderly people still fall prey to these not-so-helpful phone calls.
The challenge for all of us is when you’re just not 100% sure that it’s a scam. The key is not to engage or use any information given on the call. Don’t use any supplied links, phone numbers or other information being offered to verify the validity of the call. Instead disengage, source contact details for the business that is calling you from your own independent sources – Google might be a good place to start, and then only contact the business using this publicly available information.
Dodgy emails, text messages and links
We all saw an explosion in these during the pandemic, a lot of it driven by people working from home. IT security was a bit more lax in many cases, as laptops were not as secure as when used within the office environment. Also, as people’s environment had changed, this left them more susceptible to new cons. The most common one was in relation to deliveries – the email or text from a courier company that notified of an import charge due, that would enable the release of a parcel. The payment link was an attempt to get your bank details. The problem with these types of messages is that they look so genuine now – in some cases, the branding closely mirrors that of the courier company.
Again the advice is never to click on these links, to only interact with organisations through access points that you have independently verified yourself. Any unexpected message that is encouraging you to take action should be treated with the utmost caution.
The challenge for us all is that as we age, it’s harder to stay up to date with technology. This leaves us more vulnerable. To support you, this is where trusted members of the next generation might play an important role in your life. Reach out to them and ask them to help you stay informed of new threats and how you can avoid them.
You certainly don’t need to live your life worrying about being scammed, but be aware of the possibility and by default be suspicious of any unsolicited approaches. Your caution will be well-placed.