As a property and financial journalist I have written about a fair number of sharks, charlatans and scheisters and come across a few in person too.
It’s amazing what people try to get away with – there’s this story about a mortgage broker who conned clients out a $1.1 million and this story about a former professional rugby league player who allegedly pocketed $60,000 meant for his elderly clients,which he received by mistake.
I’ve written about unscrupulous mortgage brokers, dodgy estate agents, greedy financial advisers, but these sorts of people operate at all levels of business from the guy selling you a TV to the charity mugger on the corner of the street.
So here’s some tips to avoid getting into trouble:
- If it sounds too good to be true, it is – run!
If someone is offering to double your money in six months or promises a very high rate of return on your investment, chances are they’re up to no good. They’re acting out of greed and playing on your desire for a quick return. If you want a quick return, buy a lottery ticket (and pray) or go to the casino and put an amount you are happy to lose on black or red – that could double your stake in a flash, but at least you know the odds and the risks.
- Always get a second opinion
If you think you’re on to a good thing, then present the idea to someone you trust and ask them for their opinion. It can be a professional in the same industry, a help line, a friend, a family member, just so long as its someone who can give you an objective point of view and has nothing to gain by doing so.
- Do a Google/internet search
You can find out a great deal of information about someone simply by searching online. Type in the name of the person trying to sell you something and/or the company name and see what results come up. Certainly if your broker or adviser has gotten into professional trouble, you should find some mention of it online. But even if they haven’t you can find out a great deal about someone from online recommendations, their Facebook page, what they say on Twitter, from their blog and their previous roles via their LinkedIn profile etc.
- Don’t rush into any decision
Whether you are buying a car, a house or a new TV, you should never feel pressured into making your purchase. Remember, there is no shortage of most things and even if it’s a house or collectible car you really like, if the person selling it to you is pressuring you, you should be suspicious.
- Consider at least one or two alternatives products or services
The other day I was shopping for tea (yes just tea) and there must have been about a 100 varieties to choose from. I spent five minutes just locating the type I was after (Rooibos). This is also the case with most things you purchase these days – maybe not a 100 choices but usually a dozen alternatives. Particularly if it’s an expensive item or where the financial commitment is great, you should consider at least one or two alternative products, which may be better and cheaper or have more suitable features. You can do this without even walking into a store, by using a comparison website. Just make sure its a reputable website with a big range of products and full disclosure of how they compare items. ASIC is currently clamping down on dodgy comparison websites.
- Ask lots of questions of the salesperson
Don’t be afraid to ask questions, including ones you think may sound silly such as questions about basic information. A good salesman should be happy to answer all of them. Also, by asking a lot of questions you will become better acquainted with the product and the person selling it.
- Consider the personality, appearance and attitude of the salesperson
Think about the person who is selling to you. Are they likeable? Do you trust them? Do they have a pleasant manner? It’s amazing how often, after someone has sold you something, they lose complete interest in you, which is OK if you’re buying a shirt, but not so good if you’re buying a new car and it breaks down after a week. Trust your instincts. Avoid dealing with slick, fast-talking sales people who sound like second-hand car dealers (apologies to all honest second-hand car dealers). Buy from someone you like and trust. Why give business to a dick-head?
Happy shopping and spending over the festive season!
A public service initiative from freshlyworded.