If it seems too good to be true, then it must be!

As someone who commissioned one of the first books on advance fee fraud (sometimes called ‘Nigerian 419’ scams) nearly 20 years ago I find it staggering that people are still being sucked into these ‘get rich quick’ schemes.

While ‘advance fee’ is a particular type of bank fraud, those spammy and ubiquitous e-mails offering you fantastic sums of money in return for simply providing your personal details (and/or a small upfront payment and the ‘loan’ of your bank account) are among the more common form of financial scams on the Internet.

In most cases, the perpetrators (often posing as government officials, lawyers, bankers or accountants) claim to have unique access to enormous funds which need to be transferred out of their country of residence – usually in the context of foreign trade, bank deposits, bequests or international loan transactions. More recently, I have seen attempts to ‘liberate’ the proceeds of deceased estates where there is no legitimate heir.

Advance fee fraud scams should seem obvious by now, and hopefully recipients are wiser about these dubious offers to make them wealthy beyond their wildest dreams. Yet, I can’t help feeling these predatory fraudsters are merely an extreme version of the contemporary snake oil salesmen that inhabit the business world today.

This thought occurred to me, as I was reading about how one self-made millionaire had built his fortune – and, just by following his ‘system’, anyone could do it too. The images used to accompany the article emphasised the material trappings associated with this wealth, as if to reinforce the message: “You too can have a lifestyle like mine.”

Other variants of these ‘get rich in 10 easy lessons’ programmes are business ownership opportunities (mostly outsourced telesales operations), seminars on how to flip real estate (some of which are now illegal unless provided by licensed financial planners), and courses where you learn to build websites for clients (but your only customers end up being people who want to learn to build websites for their clients….).

Call me sceptical, but many of these ‘systems’ are merely pyramid sales schemes (sorry, MLM plans) masquerading as ways to “Be your own boss and kick the 9-5 routine”. Sure, some of these programmes may be free to access, but the likelihood is that the person offering ‘valuable’ business insights on how you can make your fortune is making their money from ‘selling’ the programme to you (via third-party advertising, sponsorship, speaking engagements, etc.).

If these insights are so valuable, why are they giving them away?


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