Street smart: 3 recent investment scams in Singapore, and how to avoid being a victim
The team at DollarsAndSense.sg get very frustrated whenever we read stories about people in Singapore getting conned by investment schemes that are very often "too good to be true".
Time and time again, Singaporeans fall prey to such scams, and have their financial futures ruined by such "investments".
One of our team members was actually invited and attended the sales pitch of one such scam. Here are some insights into how some of these investment scams operate and why Singaporeans continue to fall victim to them.
1. Tropical Forestry Ventures' Overseas Agarwood investment
Just last week, the Straits Times reported that approximately 70 investors in Singapore were crying foul over tree investments gone wrong.
These investors were left in the lurch when the companies they bought agarwood trees from ceased operations. And some of them had invested as much as $60,000.
Investors would put money into buying saplings or semi-matured agarwood trees in Malaysia or Thailand with promises of up to 700 per cent when the trees they purchased were ready for harvesting.
After buying the trees, investors were told that the company shut down, and another company was taking over the accounts. This company sold current investors even more trees with reasons that are still being investigated.
Investors have subsequently lodged police reports, and the case is ongoing.
2. Suisse International's Gold Buyback Scheme
In February 2015, the Straits Times wrote that a reported 250 people with approximately $35 million in investments were conned by Suisse International's gold buyback scheme.
Under this scheme, investors would invest in physical gold with the promise of a return of about 2 per cent every month.
The company would sell the gold at a "discount" to original prices to entice investors.
Furthermore, they would try to appear to be genuine by allowing investors to take the physical gold home, and promising to buy back the gold at the original price regardless of whether market prices went up or down.
And investors would also be given further discounts by referring their friends.
Investors thought they could earn over 20 per cent per annum without taking much risk. They were wrong.
In reality, the "discount" Suisse International offered was still a premium to what gold prices really were.
They probably had no intention of ever buying back the gold or paying returns in the long term.
They did so only to lure initial investors to trust them, and to invest even more money and to refer more friends to participate in the "too-good-to-be-true" scheme.
3. Ponzi Scam Involving Properties
In May last year, news broke that a $60 million ponzi scam had been running for 15 years. This scam finally caught up with the mastermind, who cut off contact with the investors after telling them the money was gone.
This scam involved investing money with a "renowned" agent to buy distressed properties in prime districts and selling them to a pool of buyers in China.
Duping more than 100 investors with promises of 10 per cent to 48 per cent over a period of four to eight months, the scheme got so successful that investors began referring friends.
And each referral earned investors even more money through a percentage cut that went up to half the investment amounts in some cases.
Some scams that deserve our mentions even though they happened more than 2 years ago include Profitable Plots' landbanking scam and Sunshine Empire's Multi-Level Marketed (MLM) scam.
We can go through what happened with these companies but at the end of the day, there are simple ways to sieve investments to figure out if they are scams or not.
How To Spot Scams
We apologise if you were waiting for us to divulge a technical or scientific way to identify scams. We don't have one.
What we can tell you is that these scams have many similarities about them that should put you on the backfoot when you're dealing with them.
The first litmus test to identify a scam is its rate of return. Anything above 10 per cent per annum should make you very concerned and keep you on your guard.
Some other things that conmen work into their scams includes show of success - where salesmen wear smart suits, drive expensive cars, have expensive watches and work from luxurious offices.
They also pressure you with limited time deals by making you think that everyone is rushing to invest in this new investment scheme, and that you would be losing out if you did not.
Another characteristic that should raise alarm bells with such investment is the offer to buy back products/ investments at cost price regardless of market movements.
When you invest money, you should expect to take some risks. If the investment does not have any apparent risks, you should start worrying whether it's a scam.
So, what can you do to stop yourself from being a victim? Most of the time, victims say they were foolish not to realise it was a scam when things go wrong.
So what you have to do is avoid signing up for such investments no matter how many trees or gold bars the company would be giving you to sign up on the spot.
If it is such a great deal in the first place, we do not think they need to dangle these trees and gold bars to entice investors.
Do you know of any other scams that is currently happening in Singapore? Do share it in a like-minded Facebook Group call Singapore Scams Discussion so that more people would be warn against these scams.
DollarsAndSense.sg is a website that provides bite-sized and relevant articles to help Singaporeans make better financial decisions.