Modern day financial criminals are leaning on the collaborative aspects of social media to boost their credibility and freelance writers could be unwitting accomplices.
In my search for freelance writing assignments, I recently posted a profile on a social media site. Scratching beneath the surface of one particular creative writing job has revealed a potential gold mine for financial criminals – the high yield investment program or HYIP.
HYIPs are fraudulent schemes dressed up as sophisticated investment opportunities, according to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. The Commission also claims that HYIPs operate like Ponzi schemes, wherein the capital given by new investors is used to pay earlier investors, and to convince them they are making a return on capital when in reality their own funds have long since disappeared. But this view is not held by HYIP investors in specialist internet forums. Some commentators see HYIPs as a legitimate way of making money without the interference of a regulator. Others admit to losing money in scams, but claim some HYIPs are genuine. Differentiating between the legitimate programs and the scams is not simple. HYIP advice forums guide investors to sites with well written content, which may indicate a higher level of commitment from the HYIP investment team than one that is poorly described.
Getting your marketing, copy and image right – which means with correct spelling and grammar – is fundamental to building confidence in any potential investor. The average 419 letter is poorly written and its fraudulent intent is obvious to most — although not all — readers. An investment scammer’s strengths lie in the confidence he inspires in potential investors, in selling a fake dream and convincing people to part with their money and not necessarily in content writing or graphic design. Contracting out the other parts of their scam to specialists will only add to the credibility of the scheme.
A creative company profile
I was invited to bid for a 1,000 word creative assignment to write a company profile. My contact is a man whose profile shows he is based in a harbour town in North Africa. He and his business partners claim to be professional traders, who formed an investment company in 2010, prior to the Arab Spring uprising. They are also operating legally — in Panama.
The brief is light touch and offers no information on the company other than the three funds they offer. The company is small — my contact claims they are not planning on making billions and they want this to be clear. I have been instructed to omit any names from the copy. The brief further advises me to write ‘convincing content’ to entice people to ‘invest confidently.’ There is no mention of a regulator, or regulated entity, no mention of which licenses the company holds and no statement of the potential risks investors could face. It does make one promise which is sure to hook the uninitiated – all of the investors will receive their full principal investment back plus profits once the investment period expires.
HYIP, HYIP Hurrah?
HYIPs are the fodder of internet chat rooms populated by professional gamblers. A quick browse through the TalkGold internet forums reveals several numerous threads relating to setting up HYIPs and HYIP monitor sites. Monitor sites will track HYIPs progress and claim to provide more savvy investors with information on when to pull their money out of the program. However, this is a far from fail-safe investment strategy.
In 2010, the US Financial Industry Regulatory Authority warned that the ‘con artists behind HYIPs are experts at using social media — including YouTube, Twitter and Facebook — to lure investors and create the illusion of social consensus that these investments are legitimate.’
According to the brief I received, the firm wants investors to read the website ‘like a novel being written just never written before’ – and they would like to head the website with a pithy quotation.
Although the opportunity to create a completely fake reality is appealing, I turned the job down. Several pithy quotations to head the site have sprung to mind however and I think I might offer him this fine English proverb as an opener:
‘A fool and his money are soon parted.’