*This content is brought to you by Brenthurst Wealth

By Brian Butchart*

Brian Butchart

Fear, panic and greed are key emotions that criminals prey on when dreaming up financial schemes to rob unsuspecting victims. The past few years have been prime picking time as investors have had a fair bit to worry about.

Sadly, criminal syndicates have been quick to latch onto this uncertainty and are only too glad to promise nervous investors a route to quick returns. Unbelievable returns. Improbable returns, in most cases. And we, Brenthurst Wealth, have not been immune from getting scooped up in their schemes.

In July this year, we became aware of a fake WhatsApp group impersonating Brenthurst Wealth and offering some of these insane returns on unnamed investments. We reported this incident immediately to the Financial Sector Conduct Authority (FSCA) so that it could warn investors about this group pretending to offer investments from us. The FSCA responded immediately with a press release.

First off, we will never communicate with investors via WhatsApp. No matter how official the group looks. Sadly, it is amazingly easy to impersonate a brand digitally and there is little we can do to prevent that. This is why we only communicate with our clients and potential investors through official Brenthurst channels.

This includes a weekly newsletter that summarises news and insights from Brenthurst advisors on investment conditions and how to respond to them. This newsletter is exclusive to Brenthurst clients and newsletter subscribers, and this medium will never be used to promote ‘investment opportunities’.

Brenthurst’s relationship with its clients is unique and personalised. Portfolios are structured to help clients to meet their specific goals based on their specific circumstances. So, blanket ‘investment opportunities’ is simply not how Brenthurst operates.

So, be suspicious if you receive any communication that claims to be from Brenthurst offering you amazing wealth and riches. Relationship managers will always communicate directly with clients by phone or email if we do have an opportunity that we believe is the right fit for a client.

Please contact our advisors directly to verify the message’s legitimacy for clients and investors who receive communication that sounds too good to be true.

There are countless schemes and methods used to part innocent victims from their money. The main watchword is always to be suspicious. If the deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If something feels wrong about the message or the person claiming to send it, then kindly decline and move on.

Unless you are 100% comfortable that you are dealing with a legitimate person from a legitimate company, then you will probably lose less by walking away.

The nature of financial scams has remained largely unchanged over the years, although the delivery mechanisms have added new channels like chat apps to the trusty email scam.

Here are ways to spot messages that most likely come from someone who is highly motivated to part you from your money.

Check the source/Verify the sender

One of the easiest, but not fool proof, ways to check whether a message is real is to verify who sent it. Although it is possible to spoof an email address to look like it came from brian@brenthurst.co.za, it’s fairly easy to double-check by inspecting the email address and message closely.

For instance, the fake Brenthurst WhatsApp group phone number was clearly not a South African phone number. The +268 dialling code for Swaziland is a dead giveaway.

When in doubt, pick up the phone and speak to your advisor to verify any suspicious-sounding messages.

How to spot fake emails

Another way you can check the veracity of an email message offering investment opportunities is to check where the links point to. You can do that simply by hovering your mouse over an embedded link – without clicking on it – for the address to be revealed.

The actual destination can sometimes be hidden if a URL shortener is used. These services shorten long internet addresses by creating a shorter, easier to share, link. But that link can also hide the fact that the link is pointing to a fake site instead of the site you think you are connecting to.

Other tell-tale signs are bad spelling and grammar and if the message is vague and non-specific. So, if you are addressed as ‘Valued customer’ then that is a good sign the message is not from an advisor.

Other red flags to look out for

Aside from being suspicious of deals that sound too good to be true, be on the lookout for:

  • investment opportunities offering you a guaranteed return
  • investment opportunities offering always growing or very consistent returns
  • investment opportunities with overly complex investing techniques or mechanisms
  • investment opportunities that do not have a prospectus or supporting documentation you can interrogate
  • a hard sell by someone pressuring you to buy before the opportunity disappears
  • unsolicited approaches by phone call, text message, email or a person knocking on your door
  • communication that does not offer clear and verifiable information like contact and office details

You have worked hard for your money and have been diligent in putting aside money for tomorrow. Please do not let criminals darken your future by stealing from you in a moment of weakness or despair. Your advisor is always there to help you. Rather reach out to make sure you do not fall victim to the scammers.

  • Brian Butchart, CFP®, is the Managing Director of Brenthurst Wealth