With Good and Bad Advice Flowing, Learn to Discern

By Michelle Singletary
Thursday, September 18, 2008

If your e-mail inbox is like mine, it's filling up with tips on how to handle the crisis on Wall Street.

Given the turmoil, this is prime time for scams, bogus business opportunities and questionable advice.

I understand if you are rightfully worried about losses in your investment account. But stay calm. Don't be so eager to make money or preserve what you have that you make a costly mistake.

First, be leery of offers online or otherwise that guarantee you'll make money in a down market. I got one e-mail from someone pitching a deal in whichyou set up a Web site for $250 and watch the money just click its way into your bank account. All you have to do is make deals with credit card companies for jewelry and clothing. You don't actually take possession of any inventory. You just act as what they call an "affiliate marketing middleman."

"No risk," you're told. "If you do it right, you can make a six-figure income."

Sure, there are folks who have found ways to make money online. But it is not as easy as just setting up a Web site and waiting for checks to arrive.

There are some helpful tips for investors or people trying to make do in this rough economy -- but be mindful that much of this is coming from biased sources.

Biased advice isn't inherently bad. I certainly have no problem passing along tips from legitimate industry sources. I received an e-mail from the CMPS Institute, an organization that provides training, examination and certification for mortgage bankers and brokers. The subject line on the e-mail read: "Hurricane Wall Street: Four Steps Consumers Can Take To Protect Themselves."

"With Wall Street engulfed in the biggest financial crisis in a generation, there are a few things that consumers can do to protect themselves from this perilous storm," wrote Gibran Nicholas, the institute's chairman.

Of the four tips, I thought the first two were very helpful.

Tip No. 1: Make sure your investments are protected through the Securities Investor Protection Corp. If you have a brokerage account, you might want to read up on what protection you have in light of the Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers.

The SIPC maintains a special reserve fund authorized by Congress to help investors at failed brokerage firms. If customer assets (cash and securities) are missing as a result of a closure or bankruptcy, the SIPC steps in and, within certain limits, works to return customers' cash, stock and other securities.

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