Boiler room scams

Boiler Room Scams: How They Work

Boiler room scams are on the rise, so I feel it’s important for you to know how this type of scam works.

  • Step 1: You buy an inexpensive product or accept a “Free plus Shipping” offer from an infomercial or similar marketing medium.

Now comes a decision point. Do you buy what was offered in Step 2 or not? If you don’t, there is no Step 3. But if you do…

  • Step 3: Lose a whack of money. Could be $2,000. Could be $30,000 or more.

This kind of stuff happens every day in America and in the U.K.

Right now, boiler room scams are on the rise in the U.K. The most insidious scam involves persuading retirees and middle-aged investors to buy non-existent shares that are supposedly going to significantly increase in value in the near future.

Most boiler room scams in the U.S. involve capturing a person’s credit card information and then making unauthorized charges. Usually, there is a mysterious monthly charge that is less than $100. These charges can go undetected for months. Once noticed, it is difficult if not impossible to get the charges stopped without canceling the card.

Other boiler room scams use high-pressure sales tactics to get authorization, and then charge the card one time for a large four-figure or five-figure amount.

The victims of these scams almost never get refunds. A rare few are able to get chargebacks, but are forced to waste inordinate amounts of time and energy in order to do so. The majority never go to the trouble and just take the loss.

In Britain’s latest rash of scams, the marks are asked to wire money to a bank, usually off-shore, in order to buy the non-existent shares being pitched. Of course, once money has been wired to another bank, there is no way to get the money back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever.

The Telegraph reports:

DH, a Telegraph reader lost £400,000 to such a scam. He was conned by a company that appeared to be genuine – it had an FSA authorisation number and an HSBC bank account, albeit offshore. He has little hope of recovering a penny. […] The average amount of money lost is £20,000, but the biggest individual loss to date recorded by the police is £1.2m.

The situation in the U.K. has gotten so bad that banks are now issuing letters to their customers warning them of boiler room fraudsters.

Are You on a “Sucker List”?

Boiler rooms usually work off compiled lists of people with similar demographic and psychographic traits. These lists are affectionately called “sucker lists.”

An easy way to get on a sucker list is to do what I described in Step 1 above: Buy an inexpensive product or accept a “Free plus Shipping” offer from an infomercial or similar marketing medium.

Of course, buying an inexpensive product from an infomercial is no guarantee you’ll be put on a sucker list. But it helps if that product is about a business opportunity or has something to do with making money.

This is because boiler rooms prey on vulnerable people who are desperate to make money. Greed is a common factor among those who get taken.

My Personal Experience with Boiler Rooms

I can say from personal experience that I’ve never had a good experience with a boiler room. I’ve spoken with a few, and even paid for some way-over-priced programs back in my early 20s when I was what they call a “hyper responder.”

In every case, the offer being pitched was a course, method, or opportunity for making money.

  • The first time, I paid $5,000 for H. Roger Neale’s Fast Flip Real Estate Home Study Course. It was, in my opinion, nowhere near worth that much. I didn’t agree with the methods he taught, so I never used them. A complete waste of money.
  • The second time, I bought into an MLM opportunity. It was an investment of about $2,000 or so. Again, I realized too late that I disagreed with the marketing tactics being employed. Fortunately, I was able to ship everything back for a partial refund. I think I lost a few hundred dollars on this deal.
  • The third time, I made the biggest financial mistake of my life: I paid $30,000 for five vending machines. Although a boiler room was involved in the initial steps of the marketing funnel, the sale was commenced in a one-on-one meeting after a live presentation.

I began to wise up after this third episode.

So when I sat down to discuss paying $8,000 for the Denver, Colorado, territory of the Glazer-Kennedy Inner Circle business franchises that were first offered at the 2006 GKIC SuperConference in Chicago, I decided against the opportunity. (By the way, I have never regretted that decision.)

Why You’ll Give Thousands of Dollars
to Somebody You Don’t Know

Because of these experiences (and a handful of others where I said “no”), I began to catch on to how they were getting me (and many others) to part with large sums of money.

And while there are multiple persuasion tactics being used (authority, social proof, and urgency chief among them), the single biggest persuasion tactic is the use of consistency.

Humans want to be consistent — and congruent — in their behavior. Marketers know this. So the sales scripts they use rely on building small commitments in the beginning so that it’s difficult for you to say “no” in the end.

If you agree in the beginning, you can’t say “no” later without contradicting yourself and making yourself look bad.

So pride gets the best of most people and they plunk down a bunch of cash for an opportunity or coaching service that is not going to improve their life in any way.

Fraud: An Inside Look

If you have a few minutes, I highly recommend you watch this video. It covers many of the tactics boiler rooms use to manipulate their marks.

Take note of how the manipulation occurs. Jim Vitale, the former boiler room sales person in the video above, explains how it works:

  • Authority – Authority is established right up front. “Hey, how are you Jim, the first thing I want to do is to grab a pen, I want you to write my name down. (Now I have control. I’m already telling you what to do).” If a person asks too many questions, the authority is reinforced later through the use of what Jim calls a “slap take-away.”
  • Social Proof – Jim says that after setting an appointment to talk with a prospect, he’ll give the person references. This is the use of social proof. If other people have had success, then you are more likely conclude that you can, too. Unfortunately, many so-called “references” are being paid by the company. In other words, they are fraudulent.
  • Urgency – The phrase “ground floor opportunity” has urgency built into it. If you don’t get in fast, you might get in too late. Urgency is also built into the take-away. It’s common to mention a limited number of areas or territories, and that other people are “waiting in line” for the opportunity to get one. This is urgency created by scarcity.

It’s not that authority or social proof or urgency are inherently bad. But they can be used to manipulate people into making irrational and harmful decisions. This is why they are tools of the trade in every boiler room’s toolbox.

How to Protect Yourself
from Boiler Room Scams

If you find yourself tempted to buy into an expensive business opportunity or coaching program, please protect yourself by keeping these tips in mind…

  • Tip #1: Always do your research before making an investment. Search Bing for negative/positive reviews and see what you can dig up.
  • Tip #2: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t let yourself be manipulated by promises of easy wealth.
  • Tip #3: If you must use a credit card to pay for the opportunity, then do not proceed. Say no and hang up.
  • Tip #4: If you must take out a second mortgage to pay for the opportunity, then do not proceed. Say no and hang up.
  • Tip #5: If the sales person asks for your credit card limit or how much credit you have available to use, then do not proceed. Say no and hang up.
  • Tip #6: Do the math! Figure out how much you could realistically make in the next 3 months. Then cut that number in half. Then halve it again. Does your investment still make sense?
  • Tip #7: Plan for the worst case scenario. If none of the income claims are true, and you never make a penny, will you be able to recoup part of your investment? Can you resell whatever it is you’re buying? If so, what is the going rate on eBay right now?
  • Tip #8: Talk to trusted friends and family members about the opportunity or coaching program you’re considering. Get their honest feedback — and take it seriously. The people who love you most are interested in protecting you from making a bad decision.
  • Tip #9: Last but not least, never make a decision the same day or even the same week. Give yourself at least two weeks to consider any big investment. After you’ve “cooled off,” you’ll be more rational about the decision.

These tips, combined with the information above, should provide you with a good defense if you ever find yourself on the receiving end of a boiler room scam phone call.

Oh, and one last thing…

Do you have a story or experience about getting scammed by a boiler room? Please share by leaving a comment below.

-Ryan M. Healy

Ryan M. Healy

Ryan Healy is a financial copywriter and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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