Know what to look for so you can avoid the multitude of scams online! (Photo: Shuttershock)

Protecting Yourself Against Monetary Scams

Long ago there was Ponzi, the eloquent hustler and father of modern-day con-artistry who first mastered the sordid art of deception. Later on, came along Madoff; Considered to be one of the most unscrupulous fraudsters in modern-day history, he devised a highly coordinated scheme (with the help of multiple associates and employees), to scam hundreds of unwitting victims out of a cumulative amount of nearly 65 billion (yes billion!) dollars. In our more present times, we’ve become acquainted with Elizabeth Holmes and her scintillating ability to entice investors, without as much as a “drop” of evidence of her testing kit’s ability to perform.  


And lest we not forget our beloved cons of the dating world, to include The Tinder Swindler, and another scammer who shares a last name with a notable Hollywood director who could surely have made a movie to depict the misery of any one of these named illusionists in great dramatic flair!

It seems now more than ever, that people are on alert for the deceiving and conniving amongst us. But as history seems to often find a way of repeating itself (even in the face of strong evidence that suggests we go in the exact opposite direction!), we might consider if it is even possible to avoid such types in the first place.


Do we lock our physical bodies and our assets and our hearts away for optimum protection? Should we cut our losses at the first sign of malice of another? —surely, we all have good intentions at heart (we’re looking at you telemarketers!).

With the ever-growing inter-connected world that we live in, it is becoming increasingly difficult to decipher what is genuine and true. Here are some ways that you can protect yourself (and your assets) from the next snake-oil salesperson on the block, at your bank, or on your favorite dating app.



How to Get Ahead on Scam Artists

Look Past the Charisma

Understand that anyone who wants to sell you something—whether it be their business services or selling their pedigree to convince you to agree to go on a coffee date—is going to try to present their best image. There is a reason why sales professionals are trained to smile big and to present with an upbeat and enthusiastic image. In our society, those who are happy and open and talkative are seen as professional. These arbitrary traits are of course not inherently bad qualities for a person to possess on an individual level. However, you should know that any sort of business transaction will be goal oriented on the side of the salesperson. Remember that this person wants to sell you on something: Either themselves, or their product, and oftentimes both!


Be Objective

Are they overly enthusiastic? Charismatic people frequently possess the ability to make us feel warm and at ease. But when you engage in a business deal, it is better to remain in your logical business sided mind. You need to be able to think rationally about any negotiations or offers being presented to you. By showing you an artificially warm and outgoing demeanor, the salesperson “disarms” your ability to see things in a concrete manner. This will inherently make you more susceptible to influence in the sales process. Again, not always a bad thing, but something to be cognizant of when you meet anyone for the first time especially.


Do they attempt to move past natural boundaries before any rapport has been established? There are many unspoken rules in professional and romantic settings that decent, well-intentioned individuals will adhere to without much thought. On your first few in-person visits, if you notice obscure behavior that involves un-solicited attempts to invade your personal space, excessive touching, or other exaggerated movements that are premature overall, this could be telling. As it is likely another attempt to get you to feel artificial “closeness” to the perpetrator. This is done in efforts to get you to feel more attached to someone who you have not known very long.


For instance, let’s say that you step into an investment bank to find a new portfolio manager. You sit down with the recommended representative. During the conversation they chat your ear off and make frequent gestures of touching your shoulder or patting you on the back or make suggestions such as “We are going to be such great friends!” Or “I’m really going to take care of you, I just pride myself so much on helping my clientele.”


Again, it is not inherently bad when someone presents themselves as professional and caring, but if things are presented to you with high dramatic flair, i.e., they present as professional actors, take notice.  Be discerning of what your representative discusses throughout the remainder of the conversation.


Never Prematurely Sign Contracts 

Never sign any documents or papers without reading things over. The average person will not take the extra time to read over a binding contract that might have great consequences if you fail to survey the terms. Don’t be average! Don’t listen to any representative who tells you to “Just sign here,” “You don’t have to read it, it’s just a bunch of legal jargon, it basically says…” Read it! Always read it! And if your representative won’t let you, then you will have saved yourself lost time and future headaches!


Check Social Media Prior to Meeting

Now let’s consider online dating apps. Say you meet someone who seems to be a preliminarily decent prospect and you establish mutual interest. At this point you should request an additional social media page. Some believe asking for social media from someone you only recently met online is too personal. But the entire premise of dating online is to go from stranger to personally acquainted so that you feel comfortable enough to eventually go on some dates with this person. 


By all means, ask questions! This includes your date’s past and current dating history (hopefully they are single and not married), hobbies, and interests. Be observant of their answers. Does this person present a natural image of themselves, or do they seem to be artificially interested in everything that you like? 


The signs are not always so clear: sometimes very manipulative individuals can be very forthright and natural with their abilities to lead you on about things. If something doesn’t check out, ask for clarification. In addition, your date’s body language, when taken into account with your inquiries, can help you to assess the situation as well.


Perform a Background Check

Before a first date, you should at minimum, have your date’s full first and last name, occupation, and a verifiable social media account such as a LinkedIn, or Facebook. Even if you meet the rare individual who truly has little to no social media, a quick internet search should render enough information for you to do further investigations. There are numerous free basic background check sites that will provide names, previous states of residence, and results of any prior criminal history.


On the professional side of things. if you are considering a new financial representative for example, websites such as FINRA can be helpful. When you enter a prospective broker’s name on this website, their license and other pertinent information will display. The profile notes will highlight if the brokerage professional has ever had a public reprimand (a letter of notice regarding some infraction of their profession), or had their license suspended or revoked for wrongdoing. In the most serious cases, notes may be available for review that will highlight the details of the illegal activity. It would be wise to use these resources to your benefit!


Do not listen to your friends, colleagues, or anyone else who tries to convince you that pre-screening potential dates or business professionals is “stalking” or “creepy,” “unfair,” or “prying.” Don’t believe that you should just blindly give someone a chance. Always, always, always do your due diligence.


In the scenario that you do find some concerning or even damning information, you have every right to (and should) inquire further. If the person in question becomes rude or harsh when you bring the information to their attention, then you will have the information needed to decide if this individual is a person who truly has good intentions.


It will always take time to get to know someone. Be it a date, or some new business professional whose services you seek. Take the time to learn about people that you bring into your life so that you can trust your interactions with them.


Avoid Playing “Nice”

Now this is the part that so many have difficulty with. Most of us are common, fair, and good folks. Therefore, we assume and expect that most others will also be fair, common, and decent towards us. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Malcolm Gladwell outlines in his bookTalking to Strangersthe great difficulty that we all have when it comes to spotting a duplicitous individual amongst us. 


Ana Montes, a former intelligence analyst at the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), was indicted on September 21st, 2001 on espionage charges after it was found that she had served for nearly a decade as a spy for the Cuban government. Her highly intelligent and sensible fellow DIA were initially shocked. Many of her fellow agents later revealed that they had long held suspicions. However, for some reason, they could not bring themselves to believe that one of their very own could be responsible for something so treacherous!


Apparently, we as humans aren’t always the best at detecting deception that is right in front of us. Gladwell later postulates that only a person who is not emotionally attached to a suspicious situation—can draw a logical conclusion about the truth of the matter.


Using this to our advantage, when you evaluate individuals as potential business partners or even dating partners, use objectivity. It is obviously easier said than done, because again, most of us want to believe in the common good. But this common good is just what so many criminals and fraudsters count on. Unfortunately, most scammers are rarely called out on their behavior. Ever watch What Would You Do on ABC? This show that tests just how far scams and rudeness can go before it’s called out, often proves dismal. 


There are usually very few people who will call out wrongdoing, even when it is presented right in front of us.

That being said, if someone is acts rude, or aggressive and pressures you into something you are not comfortable with, or leads the conversation off topic, you can be comfortable enough to know that the person in front of you likely has ulterior motives. Don’t negotiate away your intuition! You won’t always have all the “rationale” for why a certain situation feels off. But you owe it to yourself to listen to your feelings, and not proceed in further communications with the person in question.  


Report Suspicious Activity 

Regarding a financial broker or other similar business professional: If you have been affected by unethical business practices, there are a few steps you can take. First, you can report them to their manager (in the case of a business professional) or governing board. If the behavior is severe enough that your personal assets or even safety were affected, an investigation may be initiated.


Here are some things to look for that are worth reporting:


Shrinking funds

If you notice that the money in your brokerage account seems disproportionate to current market fluctuations, then it might be time to have a conversation. If they advise that all is well with your account, ask for receipts—in fact, insist on them! Even if you have an actively managed account, it would serve you well as a form of habit to periodically check over your balances. This way, you can be certain how your money is being re-distributed. By maintaining the lines of communication, you can be confident that you have in fact authorized all transactions made in your account as agreed upon between yourself and your broker.


Keep records of all conversations and transactions that occur as well. While the individual may or may not be sanctioned for their actions (license suspended, charges brought, etc.), there will be a record of your formal complaint. The more often that people speak up about any one person’s behavior, the more likely that person will be held accountable in the future. This is why it is so important to report fraudulent activities or other behaviors that might indicate wrongdoing.


Requests for money

In the dating app world, it is common for scammers to request for money. The fraudster will work overtime to develop a false sense of rapport and “love” between themselves and their victim(s). At this point, they will then ask for a large sum of money to help them out of some highly-fabricated and precarious dilemma.  It is possible that within an established, committed relationship, that monetary gifts and financial assistance may be provided. However, such financial assistance would be initiated by the goodwill of a romantic partner, not the domineering and aggressive demands of a scam artist.


Here are a few more things to watch for:


You have never met, yet they love bomb you straight away with promises of endless flowing love, happiness, and Disney-like fairytales. These promises are meant to lure you and get your guard down for further manipulation down the road. Be alert.


The person tells you that they are in some dire emergency and need money right now or else they will be harmed in some way. Do not take out loans or send money to individuals that you are pursuing for romantic purposes. You of course have the right to do what you want with your money, but you have to ask yourself why someone you just met is already so comfortable (see above paragraph regarding rush to dissolve prudent boundaries) asking for money when no real relationship has been established.


Additionally, if an authentic love-relationship has actually been established, and you find that a person who once seemed stable, and secure has suddenly found themselves in a financial emergency every other week, than it might be time to cut ties. Use common sense. A job loss of your partner, or some unfortunate times does not render them a scam artist. Just be aware of the overall story and their motivations. If your efforts to help them upend themselves out of their situation are met with anger or indignance, they may be—at the bare minimum—using you. When it comes to outright scams, the earliest stages of the relationship are the most critical and usually where you will have the strongest evidence of such.


If someone asks for large sums of money and seems to meet the criteria of a scammer, be sure to report them to the online dating platform you met them on. These websites often have a Terms of Service Agreement that outlines the rules of conduct that its members must adhere to. Don’t believe that your feedback will fall on deaf ears. Your report will help others to avoid having to deal with the same trouble later on. Your voice helps to keep others safe!


It can be hard to always know when we are in the presence of a manipulator or con artists. The best we can do is remain alert and inquisitive when vetting new people for business partnerships or relationships. By using some objectivity, and perspective, you can gain a bit more savvy and learn how to determine who might be better suited in your BLOCK FOLDERS.


What do you think? What are some things you look for when establishing new partnerships?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

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