Are you betting on a madoff redux?

It's common knowledge that bull markets breed financial fraud, and with the world heading towards an upswing, scamsters are bound to get creative sooner or later.

Sushmita Choudhury        Print Edition: April, 2010

It's common knowledge that bull markets breed financial fraud, and with the world heading towards an upswing, scamsters are bound to get creative sooner or later. What's not so well-known are the ways to spot a potential con job. How to Smell a Rat aims to do just this by highlighting common red flags. Here's how:

Don't let the fox own the henhouse: History's biggest financial scams and the recent cases of fraud that made headlines have one thing in common-the implicated adviser had the custody of customers' assets. So ensure that the person who decides your portfolio allocation can't access your funds directly. This negates the possibility of his taking your money via the back route. Instead, bet on a safe, non-connected custodian, say, a bank or a brokerage house. Remember, bigger custodians offer better protection in case of insolvency.

Consistently great returns is an oxymoron: Much like the above-average returns, non-volatility should be taken with a spoonful of salt, irrespective of market swings. A legit adviser will always have a stated benchmark as opposed to loose promises, and he'll be upfront about his performance. It helps to know your market history so that you can cross-check the adviser's claims.

Fancy words need not spell a sound strategy: It's your right to ask questions about your money. You don't need to know every single tactic, but a good adviser will make time to outline the broad strategy of investing. If it's 'too complicated to explain', simply walk away.

Exclusivity is not a benefit: It's not normal for a big-time adviser with billionaire clients to make exceptions when it comes to account minimums. If he agrees to bend the rules just this once and especially for you, take your piggy bank and run. Don't bank on adviser reputation alone and exercise due diligence.

Sounds like common sense, right? Unfortunately, this is the gist of the 209-page book. The rest is an exercise in 'how many times can I repeat myself without using the same words', along with a liberal helping of self-praise. Money Today aims to make you richer. In this case, we do so by sparing you the need to buy a copy of MT this book.

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