Of con artists and your business…

This post is a follow up to a previous article in which we demonstrated why a mere contract or agreement is not sufficient protection against being conned. Here we aim to give pointers on how you can ID con artists and how you can protect yourself in your day to day business.

Often times we think of con artists as preying only on JohnyComesToTowns for the obvious reasons.  However, it can happen to anyone. Seasoned businessman Nicholas Van Hoogstraten had his house sold without his knowledge in 2013. Air Force of Zimbabwe Commander Air Marshal Perrance Shiri lost US$50,000 to a con artist in a botched solar power system deal. In 2013, the Zimbabwe Republic Police called upon the public who may have fallen victim to one man, suspected of conning dozens of people, in Harare and Bulawayo. His conquests included entrepreneurs from butchery owners to real estate players. Anyone can be conned.

By definition, when you are conned it means you had a personal relationship with the con artist.  They convinced you that they would do something for you something that would benefit you.  They looked you right in the eyes and said, “Trust me,” and you did. You then gave them your money willingly.

How to avoid being conned 

Too-Good-To-Be-True-FBBounce it Off Someone You Trust – Con artists choose their targets with as much care as you might a crate of tomatoes at Mbare Musika.  Know this, most approaches are never random. They seek out individuals who are gullible, isolated and trusting. If someone tries to interest you in a venture involving money or property, say, “I’ll discuss this with my advisor (or acquaintance who is a lawyer/banker/accountant etc.) and get back to you.” Then talk it over with someone you trust. Clever con artists will seek out ISOLATED people. By reaching out to an objective third party, you change the game…

Don’t Trust Your Caller ID – Never do business over the phone, unless you INITIATE the call. Here’s why: No matter who your phone might say is the caller, you don’t really know who’s on the other end of the line. If you receive a call from someone who claims to be a bank, insurance company or some other place of business, say you’ll call back. That will give you time to make sure the number is legit. Simply call the company’s published number and ask to speak to the individual who called you, or to someone in the appropriate department. You don’t want to make an advance payment for a consignment that never arrives because you trusted a voice on the phone. The extra cost is worth it.

Giving loans – The tough economic situation in Zimbabwe has made money-lending a thriving business. Most of these lenders are not as sophisticated as banks and are very vulnerable to fraudsters who disappear with their money. I know a guy who can lend you up to US$20,000  right from his briefcase. I also know that this is a business anyone with a bit of spare cash has considered at some point. If you decide to give a loan to someone, it is important to write a memorandum of understanding signed by both parties. Ensure that the agreement is airtight. Insist on some form of collateral or security to protect yourself.

You have a day job – If you are like me, you have started a business where you leave employees in charge as you pursue your career. Ensure that you have a fool-proof system such as divide and rule tactics in place to stem fraud and losses. If you are selling goods, ensure that there is no double stocking, where the sly employees bring in their own stock for sale, as you take care of all the overheads. I know most flea market operators face this problem.

How to detect a potential fleecer

  1. Beware of the kind of people who usually treat you indifferently but change their behaviour when they see you in a smart car or clothes. Anyone waunoona kuti anoda zvinhu can play tricks on you. I have a few friends of that stereotype and the common thing about them is, “Ndipoo $X, ndokucover manje manje. Pane mari yandinowana on…” and they go on to quote a not so far date. Sounds familiar? Its the same people who are always trying to borrow your car…
  2. Beware of the person who says, “We’re almost there,”  or “Any day now,”  “We’ve got to get this thing going,” “Next month, I’m going to….”, “My big payment will be here any day” over and over.
  3. Beware of the person who says, “I’ll never steal from you,” when discussing the “plan.” If they feel the need to bring this up, it means they are actually imaging the act of stealing from you. Responsible, honest people wouldn’t even think the thought.
  4. Be wary of the smooth freelancer who has learned to use their persuasion skills to make a living.  If you have signed a contract with him, even if it is based on commission, it is possible for him to disappear with your merchandise and money and claim that you tried to cheat him and he’s just taking what is fairly his.  One of my tightest buddies was persuaded by this guy to hire him as mushikashika driver for a Toyota Vitz that was sitting in the garage. The guy made a big business of US$60 per day income from mushikashika and his connections within the authorities on the roads. Once hired, the driver never brought home more than US$30 in daily takings. He was claiming that (1) he had to pay kickbacks to authorities; and (2)  that the route is now over-serviced. After a month of this #BS, the driver simply abandoned the car in the CBD and disappeared with a weeks’ worth of takings.

You need to be extra-vigilant. A wrong contract with a potential supplier who is not legit can mean the collapse of your business. Beware of the smooth talking “connected” guy who can find investors for you if you pay him $5,000. What about that guy who gives you bad feeling in your gut? Follow your instinct. Its better to err on the right side of caution. I would rather be labeled paranoid than to be conned.

I hope you find this helpful. Please share.

Remember, we can do BIG things in this world.

 

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