Exercise caution when investing

Exercise caution when investing

Several years ago, a pal of mine dragged me to a meeting at an office near Raffles Place that could have been a game-changer - at least that's what the guys in suits told me.

It was a multi-level marketing presentation, as slick as the name suggests, with eager sales associates milling around, desperate to make me a bundle.

All very simple: I just had to put in about $1,300 and sell similar plans to my friends and relatives. My cash was supposed to be buying me some health products, but the plan was touted from start to finish as a money-spinning scheme.

I was tempted but being a bit low on savings at the time - just after my national service - meant I had to decline.

There were persistent phone calls for a few weeks after that - including from my friend who I realised had invested earlier - before they finally gave up.

Plenty of others were - and are - less reticent, which is why such alternative investments have become increasingly popular in recent years.

High inflation, low interest rates and pricey stocks and property mean the thrill is gone for more traditional investment classes.

There seems to be no limit to the imagination regarding the actual assets being touted. For those bullish on real estate, we have programmes that pool money from investors to buy land or property either locally or overseas.

Then there are schemes for gold trading, wine investment and even animal farms overseas.

These of course add to the multi-level marketing and timeshare schemes that have been here for years.

They tend to share two common factors - promises of handsome financial gains and charismatic leaders capable of convincing the most sceptical of investors that they will very likely make big money.

Several alternative investments may indeed be able to live up to their promises of generating cash for investors.

But I have grown very wary of such programmes and am glad I did not participate in the scheme being flogged to me those years back, even though there is a chance I could have made money from it.

I now go as far as to stay well clear of seminars if I know they will be used to promote alternative investments.

After all, the Consumers Association of Singapore last month raised the red flag over the high-pressure selling tactics of timeshare companies.

Alternative investments also often hit the headlines for the wrong reasons.

Recently, The Gold Guarantee's chief executive apparently disappeared, leaving investors in the gold trading company deeply concerned that they would lose all their money.

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