By: Pat Huddleston, author of The Vigilant Investor: A Former SEC Enforcer Reveals How to Fraud-Proof Your Investments(Amacom, October 2011) and CEO of Investor’s Watchdog, LLC
As an expert in identifying investment fraud, I predict that alternative energy scams are imminent. Cleverly-disguised scams tied to alternative energy companies that will supposedly benefit from the administration change in Washington will become prevalent as we try to become less dependent on foreign oil.
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Just as President Kennedy set a goal to reach the moon by the end of the 1960’s and poured enormous resources into making it happen, President Obama plans to challenge the country to break our dependence on foreign oil. He plans to pour resources into the effort in a way that will set American ingenuity loose to do what it does best. As a result, alternative energy will remain in the news. Scam artists will take notice and structure their scams around companies that supposedly have developed successful clean energy technology. Look for pitches for investment in companies that make cars that run on something besides gasoline. Look for pitches for investment in wind, solar and nuclear power.
Why do scam artists follow the headlines so closely? Financial criminals stay up to date on current events because it helps them craft schemes that seem more plausible. Their work requires that they establish credibility with their intended victims. Think of it this way — if someone were to approach you with an offer to invest in a company that says it can mine gold from the planet Mercury, how long would you listen? Not long. The liar who chose to pitch such a company would have to spend many hours and many thousands of dollars convincing you that such a venture is viable. Not so with the pitch about an alternative energy company. Choosing a story that is in the news as the starting point gives any pitch instant credibility — you know the need for what the company can do because you’ve seen that need covered in the press. Credibility is key.
Autumn always heralds the emergence of commodities scams related to heating oil. Every significant movement in the value of the dollar brings an increase in currency trading schemes. Even a whiff of inflation results in the rollout of dozens of gold scams. There is something about seeing something in the news that makes investors believe that an investment that addresses the topic is on the leading edge of a wave of potential profits. But for every Microsoft there are thousands of companies that failed. The important thing to remember is that, just as it is unwise to judge a book by its cover, it is dangerous to judge an investment by the professionalism and charisma of the salesman who offers it to you. You need dispassionate advice about the background of the people offering green opportunities.
Author Pat Huddleston is the author of The Vigilant Investor: A Former SEC Enforcer Reveals How to Fraud-Proof Your Investments(Amacom, October 2011). He is a former Enforcement Branch Chief at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and the CEO of Investor’s Watchdog, LLC, a fraud prevention due diligence company. www.investorswatchdog.com