Before handing over S$5,000 for a seminar ticket in Singapore, see if you can spot any of these red flags.
The Internet is infested by all sorts of seminars, from motivational speaking to Forex trading. Everywhere you look in Singapore, someone is trying to convince you they have the secret to making money or finding happiness.
Some of these are even genuine. The problem is sorting through hundreds of faux courses and seminars, many of which are costly rip-offs. At prices like S$3,000 to S$5,000 for a ticket, it’s not a mistake you want to make.
Here are some red flags to watch out for:
1. Does it Begin with an “Ambush Seminar”?
Some courses begin with an offer of a free seminar. This may be held in a posh hotel, and disguised as another type of event (e.g. a networking event, or a career analysis workshop). When you turn up for the freebie however, you’ll realise the event is just a long sales pitch.
It’s not illegal, but it is manipulative. Why trust someone who already told a half-lie, even before delivering the pitch?
This isn’t to say all the free seminars are scams. Many legitimate courses offer real, useful information, in exchange for promoting a service or product. The difference is that legitimate seminars will be focused on delivering hard information, instead of motivational speeches and promotional videos.
For example, some financial services offer a free macroeconomic outlook to their clients, as nothing more than a perk for being a client (this is common to premium banking services).
In any event, do not sign up for courses right after an ambush seminar. These are meant to pressure you into an impulse buy, such as by telling you special rates only apply for that day. Ignore their insistence; go home and think about it.
2. Does Involve Paying for Extrinsic Motivation?
Extrinsic motivation is psychological cheerleading. An example is when your friends and family assure you that “you can make it”, in tough times.
That’s where it’s supposed to come from: a support network of friends and family. It is not sustainable to pay for extrinsic motivation.
Think of your drive for success as a battery. Every time it runs down from failure and exhaustion, you need to charge it. This is why even introverted people have a few friends to give them pep talks. We all need encouragement and social approval once in a while. Many motivational speakers know this too, and they make money off it.
While you may get a lot of energy from a motivational speaking seminar, it will wear off in time. You’ll need it again in a few months. And if you decide to get it by paying for it, you will end up spending thousands on seminar after seminar.
Instead, focus on connecting with real friends and family. People who have a strong social support network rarely need motivational seminars.
Beyond that, spend your money on upgrading your skills or building your business. As you gain more success career wise, you will find more intrinsic motivation – you will be more confident due to visible progress, and require less mental and emotional support.
3. Is it Part of a Seemingly Never-Ending Series?
Some seminars encourage you to go for a next seminar. And another. And another. It never seems to end. An infinite series of seminars is the hallmark of certain multi-level marketing schemes and cults.
Never-ending seminars allow you to be treated as a cash cow. Unethical multi-level marketing schemes generate the bulk of their income this way: they don’t actually make their money from the products they sell. Instead, they make most of their money by selling motivational seminars. The self-help books, DVDs, and premium memberships sold at these events are also used to bilk you.
Another trick is to low-ball the initial seminars. The “entry level” courses may be free or a token sum like S$25. However, they lead to subsequent seminars that keep going up in price.
This preys on the sunk cost fallacy: if you’ve already paid S$25, then S$50, then S$75, then S$150 for prior seminars, you would think it a waste to stop now. You’ve already spent so much, you may as well “finish the course”.
Except the seminars may never come to an end, and pretty soon you’ll be paying S$3,000 or S$5,000 to get into “high level” seminars. If it’s clear that this is going on, stop where you’re at. Run out the door and never go back.
4. Are You Getting “Free Money” to Start Some Sort of Investment?
This is almost always a trap. A typical example is an offer to give S$10,000 in an “investment opportunity” if you just give S$100 in cash. In many cases, the organiser will get you to sign a legal agreement, which mixes your money with theirs.
While it looks like you now have S$10,100, you can’t withdraw even a single dollar until you meet their improbable terms and conditions. For example, you may have to sell S$20,000 of a particular product or service, before you can withdraw the initial S$10,100. If you never manage to do this, then you haven’t made S$10,000 – instead, you’ve lost S$100.
In our experience, free money tends to be very expensive. Be wary when it’s offered to you at a seminar.
5. Is the Seminar an Unusually Optimistic View of a Particular Asset?
A proper seminar on gold, property, or similar assets is often dry and technical. It involves a balanced analysis of market conditions, including threats. In some cases, it may have a pessimistic view of the asset in question.
If that’s what the seminar sounds like, you’ve probably found the real deal.
If the seminar starts promising 60 per cent per annum returns, or cites statistics about how a gold / coal / property / trees are the next big investment opportunity, it may be a scam.
First, do realise that financial markets are observed by professional analysts all day. If such an opportunity existed, there would be no need to publicise it. Your banks, insurers, and hedge funds would be clamouring to invest. They won’t need to approach the public for investors.
Second, ask why they are approaching you. If a land parcel in Germany is so valuable, why can’t they get a bank loan or an investor in Germany? If the seminar’s organiser is emphatic about gold beating fiat currencies, then why do they want to trade all their valuable gold for your apparently less valuable cash?
If an opportunity is as good as they say, ask why they are approaching you instead of the billionaires that should be approaching them.
This isn’t to say they are all scamming you; just that you have to question the probability of their story.
Disclaimer: We are not pointing at any specific seminar. Some seminars, such as motivational speaking, have subjective worth. It may work for one person, but be an expensive time-waster for another. The following are not definitive indicators of a scam. Take them as potential indicators, and take your chances as you will.
Read This Next:
By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.