Since the beginning of this year, fraudsters have used online platforms to steal as much as 10.89 million euros from unsuspecting Belgian investors, or an average of 1.21 million euros per month. And that is only the tip of the iceberg, since many cases of fraud go unreported. In the effort to call a halt to such online swindles, the Financial Services and Markets Authority (FSMA) together with Wikifin, its financial education programme, is launching a new awareness campaign. “We want to make investors aware that trust in the provider has to be one of the most important factors in their choice. We are therefore offering them tools they can use to steer clear of fraudsters in the future”, according to Jean-Paul Servais, chairman of the FSMA.
Belgians are increasingly seeking out online investment platforms. But along the way, they are sometimes led astray and find themselves the target of well organized fraudsters. This year, the FSMA has already received 1403 reports of fraudulent practices, an average of five per day. That is up by a quarter over the same period last year.
Investigation has enabled the FSMA to identify 172 deceptive entities this year alone. Unfortunately, far too often, investment fraudsters are unmasked only once the harm is done. The reports received by the FSMA indicate that the average amount that victims have been swindled out of is 17,134 euros. The damage is therefore significant, and makes this form of fraud particularly lucrative for swindlers.
It is worth noting that that many Belgians still think that online fraudsters are just lone wolves and that their attempts are often so amateurish that they can easily be recognized.
Yet, it is clear that the fraud is committed increasingly by well organized gangs, who behave like a company, with a call centre, graphic designer, manager, etc. Often, they work at an international level. It is important that Belgian investors have access to clear and accurate information so they can avoid falling into the hands of such organizations.
New campaign with useful tips
This is why Wikifin, the FSMA’s financial education programme, is launching a large-scale online awareness campaign: “Don’t be duped by investment fraudsters”. There is an accompanying campaign video, in which the ‘CEO’ of one of these gangs of fraudsters gives you a tour of his fake company and reveals how he leads investors up the garden path.
The campaign is designed for people of all ages. The figures indicate that the main target group for online fraudsters is Belgians between the ages of 40 and 70. One of the reasons for this is that this group generally has more financial resources.
'However, people in their twenties and thirties are just as likely to be duped. Online fraudsters are particularly inventive and use all sorts of methods, often very professional in appearance, to hoodwink someone and gain their trust. They may do so by email or phone, via fake advertisements on social media, etc. Therefore, we are providing a set of helpful tips on our website to enable consumers to be alert and steer clear of fraudsters', says Jean-Paul Servais, chairman of the FSMA.
Wikifin’s new awareness campaign runs from 2 October to 12 November 2023. More information is available on the website www.wikifin.be.
Tip 1: Check the identity of the provider
Always check your provider! You can never be too careful. The FSMA publishes lists of companies that hold an authorization to offer financial products and services. If the provider is not on one of those lists, be particularly careful and don’t just accept their offer. Be sure to check first whether their name may be on the FSMA’s list of companies that are operating unlawfully.
Tip 2: Beware of fraudsters who present themselves as well-known companies
Even if you think you are familiar with the provider, double check and verify the contact information of the entity who contacted you. Many fraudsters deceptively use the name of a renowned company that does hold an authorization. These are also known as ‘cloned firms’. More information is available here.
Tip 3: Don’t transfer money to a foreign account before checking
Never respond immediately to an offer. Play for time or say ‘no’. This will give you the time to gather all the information you need about the provider. Be sure to take a close look at the URL and the email address. An address abroad, especially if it is outside the European Union, makes it difficult to get back in touch with the provider if you encounter any problems later.
Tip 4: Be critical of every offer
Be critical of every offer you receive. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Be sure you know what you are buying and how your money will be used. Be extra wary if someone wants to sell you complicated investment products that you don’t fully understand.
Tip 5: In case of doubt, contact the FSMA
You can always ask the FSMA about an investment offer you suspect may be fraudulent. Do you have any doubts? Feel free to fill in the consumer contact form. The FSMA will get back to you as soon as possible.