Allan Gray warns of new investment scams in South Africa

 ·20 May 2024

Allan Gray is the latest South African financial services provider to warn of AI-enabled scams in the country.

Given the increase in fraudulent schemes targeting unsuspecting individuals looking to increase their wealth, Allan Gray’s Faizil Jakoet said that investors need to remain vigilant.

“Consumers have been hard hit financially over the last few years, with interest rate hikes, fuel price increases, as well as the general cost of living being more expensive than in the recent past,” said Jakoet.

“This trying environment makes for fertile hunting ground for crafty criminals, and the fact that technology has made instant investing even more accessible has widened their net.”

He added that the increase in artificial intelligence (AI) tools has led to a significant increase in investment fraud.

Scams using deep fakes and voice cloning led to a record amount being lost to investment fraud in the USA in 2022.

South Africa has not been ignored, with several deepfake videos appearing online in recent times.

“It is becoming increasingly harder to spot the con artists, especially with informal communication channels such as WhatsApp being used for both social and business purposes. This makes it a popular choice for scammers who can pose as legitimate businesses,” said Jakoet.

Nedbank also issued a warning about deepfakes, in which criminals hack social media accounts and tell the victims’ friends, family, and social media followers to invest and receive high returns.

The bank said that if the people targeted are on your contact list see the deepfake as real, they won’t doubt what you’re sharing.

Moreover, in the Kaspersky Business Digitization survey, 42% of employees surveyed in South Africa said that they could tell the difference between a real image and a deepfake.

In reality, only 21% could actually tell the difference. This is concerning as 55% of employees said that their employer could lose money due to deepfakes.

What to do

Although there is no such thing as a risk-free investment, Jakoet said that a good way to mitigate risk is to know what you’re getting into from the start and understand the safeguards that are, or are not, in place.

Nevertheless, he said that there are still several alarm bells that should be raised over a scam.

  • An investment that requires you to recruit new investors to realise the return on your investment is a pyramid scheme.

  • If you don’t understand how an investment product generates its returns and there are no clear underlying assets, you should be cautious.

  • Fraudsters want to create a sense of urgency to limit the amount of time that you spend researching and considering the potential investment. Anything marketed as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” should be avoided.

  • Though past performance doesn’t guarantee future returns, you should consider financial service providers with decent track records. Most scams promise great returns without a supporting track record to back them up.

  • Media exposure or advertising is used to legitimise an opportunity. Do your own research, ask questions, and check whether the investment is registered with a mainstream financial body, like the FSCA. Financial bodies should also be contacted to verify the registration of any relatively new or unestablished financial entity.

  • A legitimate investment should invest your money in an underlying fund or asset. You should be able to ask for proof of this (e.g., by asking for a fund factsheet). If you have trouble getting this information, then it is best to take your money elsewhere.

  • The adage still applies: If it seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Trust your gut – it will help you avoid permanent capital loss.

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