These schemes, however annoying they might be, are nothing when compared to those perpetrated by professional con artists that have discovered the advantages of hunting for their pray online.
"The Internet has made it simple for a con artist to reach millions of potential victims at minimal cost," says the North American Securities Administrators Association. "Many of the online scams regulators see today are merely new versions of schemes that have been fleecing offline investors for years."
Users of social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn are usually the most targeted, since once a user accepts a scammer as a friend or contact/connection, his list of friends and contacts is made available to the con artist.
He can then approach those people as a "friend of a friend", and can used the information shared by them on those sites to quickly establish trust.
Eileen AJ Connelly says that these crooks employ the same tactics they would use on offline investors: they offer fast and high returns for little or no risk and they use professionally made bogus sites touting the scheme but offering very few details on it or about the company they want the target to invest in.
They avoid giving out written information about the investment, and can sometimes ask targets to set up online accounts to transfer the money. They also offer bonuses that make targets more likely to recruit family and friends into the scheme.
Luckily, there are mechanisms one can use and behaviors one can adopt in order to minimize the risk for themselves and their friends:
- Don't "friend" people you don't know
- Avoid sharing personal information on social networks or use their privacy settings to hide it from people you don't want seeing it
- Use the Internet to your advantage - search for details about the investment opportunity, the company and the person who is trying to pressure you into investing. If there are very few search results on any of those search terms and those results are tied exclusively to this one scheme, chances are the crook is using a fake identity. If you are lucky, there might be also information online about previously duped users who are trying to warn others about the scheme
- Don't be swayed by testimonials - they might be faked or written by the first few investors that did get the promised huge returns in order to add to the legitimacy of the scheme
- Don't be afraid to "sleep on it" and ask advice from state agencies and associations that are set up to protect investors' rights.