You know how some religious leaders tell their followers that if they pray hard enough and donate tons of money to their organisation, their gods will bless them with wealth? These claims are often made in the same spirit in which scam artists present fantastical investment schemes to their victims.
The promise of such rich blessings from an almighty “investment plan” is too much for many people to resist—who wouldn’t want wealth without having to work for it? Alas, it’s this kind of thinking that’s gotten thousands of Singaporeans conned of millions of dollars by scams that look pretty damn dodgy to regular folks like you and me. Here are three of the most recent, and most notorious.
Suisse International gold buyback scheme
The latest fradulent gold buyback scam made the news just a few days ago, and things don’t look good for the 20+ investors who sank over $35 million into the scheme. Conned by a company called Suisse International, if these investors had only had a closer look at the company website, complete with poorly photoshopped pictures and a banner containing an egregious grammatical error, they might have smelled a rat.
The company had its customers invest in gold in return for a monthly payout of $1,000 for every kilo of gold purchased, yielding a return on investment of about 20%. Predictably, after a few months the payouts stopped and the company and its founders dropped off the face of the earth.
The disturbing thing is that this isn’t the first time someone’s played the exact same trick. Companies like The Gold Guarantee, Genneva Gold and the Gold Label have pulled the same stunts in Singapore and Malaysia.
Profitable Plots Boron scam
Profitable Plots seemed to have it all. A company name containing no spelling errors, well spoken salespeople and a presence in the UK. The company aggressively advertised to try to get people to participate in their investment schemes—ie. Buying plots of land in the UK with the promise of great investment returns of up to 300%. All their victims had to do was wait 3 to 5 years for the land to accrue in value.
In Singapore, they pushed investors to finance the sale of Boron, some substance that’s added to fuel, claming that US$10,000 would give them a 12.5% return in investment in half a year.
Now, you have to give it to them—their TV commercials looked way more professional than Suisse International’s website.
Sunshine Empire’s MLM scam
Probably one of the most famous scams in the last 10 years, Sunshine Empire has become the archetype for fradulent multi-level marketing companies. Once again, unsuspecting victims were lured into participating in the scheme with the promise of larger than life investment returns.
Sunshine Empire got its victims to invest in packages that would pay out rebates each month such that they could make 100% of their initial investment in a year. For instance, if you made the minimum investment of about $12,000, they claimed you would receive $1,000 per month for the next 9 years. Sunshine Empire claimed they were getting all this money through their wonderful businesses all over Asia, which supposedly included hotels and theme parks. Predictably, investors saw their payouts fade away after a few months, and finally stop altogether.
EcoHouse property development scam
EcoHouse seemed like a property investment firm with a social mission. They claimed that they were giving people an opportunity to invest in property that would be developed for the poor in Brazil. Ooh, how heartwarming. Even its name sounded so socially responsible. The scammers also lied that they were working in tandem with a Brazilian government programme to provide housing for slum dwellers with the help of private investors.
Investors could pledge as little as $46,000 and were told to sign a 12 month contract. They were promised returns of 20% per year, but obviously the victims ended up receiving nothing.
This is just one of the many property development scams that have targeted Singaporeans, who tend to view property as a safe investment.
Do you know anyone who’s been a victim of an investment scam? Let us know in the comments!