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Catching Some Scamsters Post Facto is Not Enough

The Stock Guru scam shows that without a new approach, if scamsters are caught at all it will only be after they’ve done the damage...

The Stock Guru scam may have grabbed the headlines for a while, but it’s just another one of the many large investment-related scandals in recent years. There seem to be two basic models that these scams follow. One could be called the teak plantation model and the other is a straightforward Ponzi scheme model, generally enhanced by multi-level marketing (MLM). The teak model started in the 90s and recent examples have substituted Jatropha plants and large birds (emus) for teak trees. The Ponzi-MLM model has also flourished, with the claimed source of income ranging from real estate to gold coins to stocks and bizarrely enough, online surveys.

I think it’s safe to assume that like most white-collar crime, only a fraction of investment-related scams come to light and even fewer attract national-level attention. For the 10 or 12 big scams that have been unearthed, there could be dozens or even hundreds that go on at a local level. One hears of them only when there are a lot of victims or the amounts involved are very large or there are a few victims who are not willing to give up and write-off their losses.

Unfortunately, the official response to such scams seems stuck in the paradigm of responding to police complaints. This is a completely inadequate way of dealing with investment-related scams. Clearly, there needs to be a way of pro-actively catching these scams before they can do much damage. Ideally, there should be some kind of a central registry of entities authorised to receive investments that is accessible through the web and mobile. Just as importantly, there should be enough members of the public who are educated enough in these matters to check with this registry whenever they hear of any schemes.

There could be other ways of achieving the same end but the current situation is that some victims eventually go to a police station and file a complaint of cheating and then somehow things moved from there. That’s clearly not enough.