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Scammers - they have YOU in their sights
Scammers | They Have YOU (in cross-hairs) In Their sights

When American comedian W.C. Fields delivered his classic line: "Never give a sucker an even break," he was preaching to the converted. It is a code thousands, maybe millions, live and cheat by every day. And why not? It works very well for them, mainly because they have us. We are the suckers, the marks. And they are the scammers.

They have been out there forever and continue to prey on the naive, the unsuspecting, the gullible and the vulnerable. If we don't fit into any of these categories, there are plenty more that describe who and what we are, and all are flashing beacons to grifters and confidence tricksters. Being aware that this is the way of things doesn't, unfortunately, make us immune to the sting when it comes. There are so many variations of it, often set up by people in whom we are very likely to believe and trust simply because they seem genuine, decent, law-abiding citizens just like us. Usually, by the time it is realised that they aren't, they've taken our money or prized possessions and gone.

Nearly every night we see reports on news and current affairs programs telling of ordinary folk being conned, mainly by the unscrupulous, but very occasionally by well-meaning individuals who mis-managed the scheme they were originally promoting in good faith. The end result is the same - the losers have to live with the embarrassment, a feeling of bitterness and a large financial hole in their savings, if there are any left at all. This may never happen to you, but in the hopes of making sure it doesn't, I'd like to list a few of the current scams going around, just in case you weren't aware of them. Then, at least, you will be forewarned and can send the hustlers packing before they stick their grubby hands in your pockets.

To start with, what exactly is a scam? In simple terms, it is the offer of a desirable item, service, or a financial return for a less-than-average outlay. The reward is a juicy carrot which doesn't exist at all, will never be delivered in full, or is of much lower value than its cost. The gold coins that turn out to be plated base metal; a roof-restoration that was begun but never finished; shares in the Bahamas resort that was never built; these are just a few examples of tricks people fall for every day. The scammers will use any means to make contact, usually as a batch mail-out which targets every name on a list they have acquired - from the standard phone book, email address books they have managed to access, social media sites, anywhere, in fact, that your details are stored. They don't expect a 100% response, but just a few takers will be profitable for them. Then there are the more direct approaches when you can be conned into thinking they know you personally and that they truly care about your welfare. Someone may knock on your door, send a cleverly-worded email, or a snail-mail letter, and generally the prize they dangle has some intimate connection for the receiver. These scams are a real worry, because too many are totally fooled by them. Some of the following may already be familiar, but if you have the time I'd recommend at least a glimpse through all of them, just as a reminder to be vigilant.

The Investment Opportunity
There are plenty going around and not all are scams. They can range from holiday resorts to tree plantations, shopping precincts to inventions, movies, gold mines, oyster farms, you name it. Most need large sums of money just to kick off and all are likely to be long-term proposals, so investors will have to wait quite a while before they see any return on their outlay. There might be different levels of investment, catering for people who have a little spare cash to the ones who can put in considerably more. Because of the large amounts involved, the proposers expect caution on the part of their targets and that individuals, couples and sometimes groups will talk it over before deciding whether to go in or not. So, it has to be presented in a really attractive way - a glossy prospectus in the mail box, a website with pages of photographs or artist's impressions, plus figures outlining cost projections and eventual financial benefits. It looks good, maybe spectacular and, aside from the profit which will be far and above anything that can be earned in the banks on the current rates of interest, think of the personal pride from being involved in such a scheme, the buzz from getting in on the ground floor and making it happen! Once attitude switches to this mode it becomes very personal and the enthusiasm generated can easily override cynicism and doubt. Please be exceptionally careful when considering this kind of investment. Even the genuine ones can go belly-up; the scams always will. I'll repeat what I've said before - check it out thoroughly, visit the proposed location where possible, consult your bank, investment adviser, accountant, or anyone whose opinion you value to see if they have further information before you take the plunge. Once you have, it may be too late to pull out. The bottom line - if you can't verify that the project is genuine, or you even suspect that it could have more than a few teething problems, be very wary of putting your money into it!

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