It's the season to scam.
I think I've used the phrase "low-life bum" more than I care to as I've read story after story this past year of investors being ripped off in new and old scams.
Most recently, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges against two Maryland businessmen, accusing them of bilking investors of $8.2 million with promises of risk-free returns of between 1 and 5 percent per month.
In its complaint, the SEC said people were told their money would be pooled with other investors' in $1 million lots to buy "debt obligations of the top 50 banks in the world." Investors were promised their money would be safe and secure.
But the SEC thinks this was a classic "prime bank" scheme. It alleges that the money collected from investors was in fact used to engage in highly speculative and expensive trading in the precious metals markets.
The SEC says that, in similar cases, investors are told their funds will be used to buy and trade "prime bank" financial instruments and are led to believe the investment, while low risk, will net high returns. But no such prime bank instruments exist.
With the ups and downs of the stock market (mostly down these days), investors, especially retirees, are becoming more vulnerable to fraud or, at the very least, open to putting their hard-earned money in inappropriate investments.
Con artists are diligent in gaining the trust of unsuspecting investors, in some cases even getting on their knees and praying with their victims to win them over.
In February, a federal jury convicted a Georgia man -- a preacher, no less -- of stealing nearly $9 million from 1,600 small, black churches and other nonprofit organizations by promising them big returns on small investments.
Prosecutors in the case said the minister told the faithful (who then told their friends and relatives) that he was developing Christian resorts around the country and that for a fee of a few thousand dollars, their churches could be "members" of his company. In return, he promised that in time, the churches would get a grant or a forgivable loan of up to $500,000.