Investors need to beware the boiler room scammers

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CARBON credit investments aren’t the only schemes being promoted by unscrupulous firms aiming to catch investors unawares.

Some carbon credit scams are operated by the same firms behind notorious boiler room investments that have conned apparently sophisticated investors out of millions of pounds in recent years.

These are scams that target experienced and often sophisticated investors with seemingly attractive share offers that turn out to be worthless or even non-existent. Their targets are usually identified from lists of individuals that have owned shares or funds – the regulator warned earlier this year of a list in circulation among fraudulent firms with some 77,000 names on it.

They enjoy a fair amount of success too. Just last month more than 20 people, including several Britons, were arrested in Spain by police investigating an alleged boiler room fraud that conned £6.5 million out of more than 200 UK investors.

Some £15.5m has been lost to investment fraud during the past six months alone, according to Action Fraud, with boiler room scams particularly prominent. Yet it believes that the majority of victims fail to report their losses.

Investors tempted by investment opportunities that arise out of the blue are urged to ask themselves if it seems too good to be true.

Barry O’Neill, investment director at Carbon Financial Partners, said: “One simple question to ask yourself to establish if something is a bona fide investment or whether you are simply exposing yourself to pure price speculation is ‘am I owed a return for investing my money’?

“Bank accounts, government bonds, corporate bonds, property and shares all generally pay something to investors as compensation for allocating their capital to them.”

Another solid rule is not to invest in anything as a result of a cold call or e-mail. O’Neill added. “You must do sufficient due diligence into any investment so you can understand where the risks really lie and how the returns are to be generated.”

Almost as prominent and dangerous are land banking scams, said to be particularly active in Scotland’s Central Belt area. These schemes offer (usually retired) investors plots of land with the promise that they can develop and make potentially significant returns from it.

The problem is that the land either doesn’t exist, has no planning permission and/or is protected from development, making it worthless as an investment opportunity.