22 January 2024

Financial advice scam - James loses $600 in cold-calling swindle

Financial advice scam - James loses $600 in cold-calling swindle

Retired widower James won’t be picking up calls from unknown numbers anymore after falling foul of a scam that saw him pay $600 for investment that was pitched as ‘financial advice’ from a cold caller.  

James, who is in his 70s, lives in a regional New Zealand city, with his adult son. “Being retired, we have limited resources, but I’m lucky as I’ve paid off the mortgage, and I have money invested.” He is also financial guardian for his son.  

In August, James answered a cold call from someone claiming to be an investment adviser with the share trading platform Sharesies. The caller offered to provide investment advice for a fee of $299 – a deal that James thought sounded good.  

The caller gave his name as Kumar. “He didn’t offer a surname, but he sounded like he knew what he was talking about.  I felt it was a reasonable offer. It didn’t occur to me that he wasn’t genuine,” says James.  

After James agreed to this arrangement, Kumar remotely installed software on James’s laptop, which allowed him to access James’s files and to see his Sharesies investment portfolio. Kumar paid himself from James’ PayPal account and then advised him to invest $600 by buying shares in three different companies. “I don’t know whether he just picked them at random, but they have all fallen in value since.”  

Kumar got in touch again in September and October for two further payments, saying that these would be the final payments needed to get three years of financial and investment advice. Although he made these payments, James was starting to get suspicious.  

Alarm bells rang when he saw that his first payment to Kumar had been paid into a Singapore bank account. “Sharesies is an Australian-New Zealand company so I couldn’t understand why the money would go to Singapore.”  

A call to Sharesies confirmed that it doesn’t have its own advisers and doesn’t do business in Singapore. He had been scammed. “When I found this out, I was a bit despondent and ashamed to think I had been taken in - that someone had been playing a game at my expense. That’s not the way I do business. I also told members of family who were as upset about it as I was.” 

James’s bank was unable to do anything since he’d used PayPal to send money to Kumar.  “I have received a partial refund of $270 from PayPal, but I don’t have much confidence that my other payments will be refunded. Paypal’s processes are rather complicated and must be completed according to their timelines.” 

A Sharesies spokeswoman said the company did not provide financial advice.  

“This may change in the future but in the meantime, we recommend people check an adviser’s credentials to see they are licensed,” she said. “If a customer suspects a scammer or wants to verify if it is Sharesies contacting them, they should not hesitate to email us at [email protected]. We’ll reply as soon as possible and within one business day.”  

“If we request anything from the customer, we always ask them to login to their account to complete the action. We would never ask for money or information over email or over the phone. We also encourage customers to use in-app messenger to confirm the authenticity of any requests.”   

She said that people can confirm genuine Sharesies bank account details on its help centre page. 

James’s computer has now been checked for any malware and the software installed by Kumar removed. His experience has prompted him to take extra precautions in dealing with cold callers. “I have deleted Kumar’s number and I’ve learned how to block unlisted or unrecognised numbers. I didn’t realise you could do that until someone showed me how to do it on my phone. Today, I probably wouldn’t answer the call at all.” 

If a call does come through, he’ll be more suspicious. “I wouldn’t share any information without doing more research and double checking that the person is who they say they are, especially if I’m investing online. If I’d had called Sharesies immediately, they could have told me that it was a scam.” 

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