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422: Avoiding Ponzi Schemes and Bad Actors

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The notion of moving wealth away from Wall Street into the hands of small private operators sounds great. However, it’s important to acknowledge some of the challenges of navigating these waters; challenges that many have witnessed first-hand in the podcast ecosystem over the past two years.

First and foremost, let’s talk about vetting. Investing is hard. With the ideal operator and business plan, you still have economic cycles, inflation and interest rates to worry about. And sometimes, projects just fail. These are investment realities that are always there even before you choose an operator.

Of course, not all operators are created equal and the vetting process becomes paramount. How do you ensure that these operators have the acumen, integrity, and diligence to manage your wealth responsibly?

You can do background checks, look at resumes and track records. You can ask all the right questions and even get all the right answers. All of this is certainly helpful, but limited to historical data. As the old saying goes, past performance does not indicate future results.

So far, all of this applies equally to Wall Street and Main Street. But I would argue that the one variable that is much harder to control on Main Street is the bad actor.

You would be correct in pointing out that the most famous of modern-day Ponzi schemes was perpetrated by Bernie Madoff, Wall Street’s Godfather. But that just doesn’t happen that often with the big boys. Too much red tape, regulation and heavy-hitting due diligence by sophisticated investors to make an outright fraudulent investment work.

And the bad actors know that too so they set their sites on easier targets like retail investors. They lurk at our events and make the podcast circuit. It is for these various reasons that I no longer will interview anyone from outside of my own circle actively raising capital. It’s also the reason that we now use an SEC-registered broker-dealer to conduct independent due diligence on most of our offerings in Investor Club.

How do you identify a bad actor anyway? Sometimes it’s quite easy. For example, one fund that was circulating in the podcast ecosystem had a founder and CEO who I couldn’t even locate on a Google search despite the fact that he was sold as a major player in the oil and gas industry doing business with some of the world’s top companies. 

Sometimes it’s less obvious and you have to know how to look for clues. My guest this week on Wealth Formula Podcast is an expert in identifying fraud, in part, because he once ran a Ponzi scheme himself.

Show Notes:

08:45 From Fraudster to Fraud Prevention

17:10 Do Frauds Generally Start with Intention?

19:36 5 Major Red Flags of Fraud

37:40 James’ Business