DUBAI // Amateur investors are being targeted by financial conmen offering to double their money in foreign currency exchange trading.
In fact, financial experts say the “forex” funds don’t exist: they are Ponzi schemes, in which new investors’ cash is used to pay returns to existing investors, and could collapse at any moment.
“I could probably find 40 in a couple of hours, just in Dubai,” said Sam Instone, chief executive of AES International financial advisers. “If they are allowed to get away with it, these kind of get-rich-quick scams will thrive.
“To the poorly informed, they look genuine. It catches out a lot of people. I hear heartbreaking stories from people like teachers who are often targeted.”
One fund company, with offices in Dubai Media City, promises a return of 110 per cent on an investment of as little as US$20,000, less than Dh75,000.
“Airline cabin crew and teachers are attracted because they can double their salaries by opening two or three accounts. It is built on greed,” said one Lebanese investor who withdrew his money from the fund when he realised it was a scam.
“$20,000 for an investment fund like this is particularly low, that is the attraction. Usually the minimum deposit is nearer $100,000, and pays just 7 per cent a year.
“Offering 110 per cent a year is phenomenal. It is too good to be true, so I got out quickly.”
Even then, he had his deposit returned only after he threatened to contact regulators. “The fund managers were fine at first and paid back my first account,” he said. “But on my second, the communication broke down.”
“I heard nothing and after 35 days I was getting worried,” the investor said.
“I sent them an email and told them I would contact the authorities at Dubai Multi Commodities Centre and within five minutes I had an email and the money was returned the same day. They try to hold on to cash for as long as possible.”
Alina, a former cabin crew member, also invested with the fund, which told her its core business operated from the British Virgin Islands.
“Because the money is held in BVI, it is easy to freeze and transfer to anywhere in the world,” she said. “This is not regulated and it is not a reliable investment.”
She withdrew her investment after reading warnings about the company on an online chat forum for airline staff, but she said many of her colleagues had risked their life savings.
“Many are not financially educated, all they see is their friends making money and they want to join in.”
Alina was also concerned when the fund manager told her it would take up to a month for her to withdraw her cash if she wanted to close her account.
“As soon as you have opened an account and deposited the money, customer services are very difficult to get hold of,” she said.
Brett, an investor from New Zealand, closed his accounts because he had doubts about the legitimacy of the company.
“I asked key questions like how to view live trades and why it took so long to get the money back once accounts were closed,” he said. “They didn’t answer these basic questions, so I closed my accounts.
“It was too risky. I know someone who has three accounts and has borrowed money to invest. If it collapses, he is in serious trouble.”
William Messruther, group manager at the Continental Group of financial advisers in Abu Dhabi, said some of his clients had asked him to withdraw regular savings to invest in what they believe are forex schemes.
“This could all disappear tomorrow. No one even knows where their money is going,” he said.
“It is not a case of if they will collapse, but when. Some people know the risks but are still happy to invest. It is dangerous. The bottom line is people are greedy.”
Investors lost millions when MMA Forex, a Ponzi-like investment scheme in Dubai, collapsed in the summer of 2013. The company’s chief executive, the Pakistani businessman Malik Awan, was jailed for two years for fraud.
To operate legally, fund managers must be licensed by the Emirates Security and Commodities Authority and the Central Bank.
Legitimate websites will clearly state the name of the regulator that oversees their work, and details of their commercial registration and trade licence.
How to invest safely and avoid high-risk bogus schemes, from AES International.
• Legitimate financial advisers should be able to answer any queries about the financial plan or asset fund, and make it clear what fees will be charged.
• Some countries have no regulation regarding who can provide financial advice. Advisers should be upfront and specific about their experience, knowledge and qualifications, as well as the regulatory framework in which they operate.
• Financial advice should be independent and tailored to your needs, trusted planners would never profess to being investment experts as well. There are many ways of accessing investments without paying for advice and a good company will be able to help you get started.
• A first meeting is all about you and the adviser getting to know each other. It’s an opportunity for you to ask questions. Be wary of anyone trying to sign you up to a plan or product at the first meeting. A decent advisory company will be able to provide more than one happy client referral.