A news item that surfaced last week was particularly interesting and personal for me. Several years ago, my wife and I invested in a project called "Sanctuary Belize" and, like many of the investors, we were incredibly excited about the prospect of retiring in paradise.
After a time, things just weren"t adding up, which prompted my column, "Tarnished Dreams" (the comments section makes interesting reading). The company supposedly put controls in place to reverse course, but we exited the project. I wrote "Renewed Hope," with a focus on the improvements and controls that were promised. However, as it turned out, they either were not put in place or failed.
The U.S. Federal Trade Commission last week announced that it had shut the thing down, and highlighted it as one of the largest scams in its history, with damages estimated to exceed $100 million. There appears to be little chance that those who stayed with the project will recover much of their investment.
The Securities and Exchange Commission recently has pointed out problems with companies ranging from Snap to Tesla (Musk seems to be balancing between financial genius and scam artist at the moment).
Last week, I wrote about, Dan Lyons" new book Lab Rats. While focused mostly on employee abuse at scale, it also covers the scam represented by many unicorn companies, which typically carry valuations of $1 billion or more, unsupported by profit or revenue.
And then there was the whopping $6 billion gold scam that set the entire gold industry on its ear.
The Belize thing was a huge learning experience for me. As an analyst, and an ex-auditor and ex-cop, I once held the false belief that I was immune to scams. One of the things that makes many scams work is that they make you part of the effort to fool yourself. A huge problem is that the folks who get caught up in the scam will attack people who catch on to it almost as if they were religious heretics (which, in a way, we are).
Rather than covering the details of each scam, I"ll suggest ways to avoid falling for one, because there are folks trying to trick us out of our money daily. Check out the seven most common scams attacking older folks at the moment. I"ve gotten calls from folks trying all of them on me, except for the roofing scam, and the approaches are getting ever more sophisticated.
I"m not sure if losing money or the embarrassment of falling for one of these scams is worse. I"ll offer my thoughts on how to keep safe and close with my product of the week: the one thing I"m most looking forward to getting this month.10 Rules to Avoid Losing Your Retirement
I recall that Steve Jobs tricked some very smart people into investing in NeXt, using VHS videos showing scripted demos of a product that didn"t exist. He tricked Carly Fiorina into exiting the iPod market before HP had even entered it. That guy could sell nonfunctional refrigerators to Eskimos.
Once you realize that anyone can be scammed, you"ll have a tendency to look at things more skeptically.
The easy ones to spot are the lotteries you won without ever entering, or the widow you"ve never met who"s dying of cancer and wants your help to distribute her millions or billions. My father-in-law fell for the former, and likely died believing he was still going to get the Cadillac and cash he "won" in the Canadian lottery he never entered.
However, knowing about a topic doesn"t necessarily mean you are expert in it. I once was tricked into buying a motorcycle because it never occurred to me the guy would lie about its age. (I won in court, but the judge clearly thought, and I tend to agree, that I was an idiot.) In that instance, I knew enough to rebuild the bike -- but I got caught up on what a great deal it was, and I was so pressured for time that I didn"t reflect on the changes made to the line since I"d last owned one.
Yes, lawyers are expensive, but they are a ton cheaper than losing your investment or having to litigate after the fact. Not getting a good attorney, with the emphasis on "good", is definitely being penny wise and pound foolish.
Granted, there may be aggressive uses of nondisclosure agreements, and social networking sites that host discussions of the subject can be shut down (both common tactics in the case of Sanctuary Belize), but the Web is a big place, and whack-a-mole isn"t working very well at the moment. Realize that not finding any independent comments on something likely is a huge red flag in and of itself.
If you have never lost your retirement and no one close to you has had that experience, you have no idea of the stress and pain it can cause. As noted in the FTC briefing on Sanctuary Belize (later renamed "The Reserve Belize"), there are thousands of people who likely will never see their dream retirement opportunity come to fruition. Many died waiting for it.
Still, scams like the ones the FTC has brought allegations on are ongoing. They extend from unicorn companies to contest winnings, and every one of us, given the right set of circumstances, is vulnerable.
Our only defense is to realize our retirement is under attack and work aggressively to defend against those attacks. (Boy, I suddenly I really miss pensions, though pension funds had their own problems.)
One final comment: If you are in an investment and someone rises up and says something to the effect of "the emperor has no clothes," maybe rather than attacking the messenger you should listen and actually consider running for the hills. Just saying�
I"ve had a number of smartwatches, with the most disappointing coming from New Balance. It was based on Intel technology and thus bricked shortly after Intel exited the segment. I"m not wearing a Fitbit Versa. The Versa has been the best by far -- mostly because it is extremely focused on quanitfying exercise, and has battery life measured in days not hours.
All smartwatches have had one issue in common, though: They aren"t very good watches, in that their displays are blacked out most of the time. The really cool features, like GPS, typically have required a second wrist-mounted device because they sucked so much power.
That is why I got excited about the Fossil Sport Smartwatch. It uses the new Snapdragon Wear platform that provides decent battery life (up to three days depending on settings) while still leaving the display active. It has GPS built in; it is swimproof (apparently you can"t dive deep with it, but you can wear it in the pool or shower); it looks like a watch; it connects to your Android phone and iOS (so you aren"t locked into Apple); and it has heart rate monitoring and all the other Android Wear features.
This means you can talk into your watch if you don"t want to pick up your phone; control your music; use Google Pay to pay for stuff; get messages on your watch; leave your phone behind if you just want to listen to music (it"s kind of an iPod replacement); and take advantage of the typical watch features (stop watch, alarm, customized watch faces, etc.).
I don"t have the watch yet, but damned if I"m not counting the hours till it arrives. If it is as good as I hope, it is in the running for my product of the year. Now if it just had a case more like an Invicta watch�
Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester.