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by AARP Outreach & Service, January 21, 2009
When she retired from 30 years of teaching, Mary thought she could trust her investment adviser with all of her savings. After all, the adviser was well known to other African American professional women in her community. She seemed to portray the positive image of a successful African American businesswoman. Little did Mary know that her money would disappear, leaving her with few funds and broken trust.
Mary was the victim of affinity fraud. Affinity fraud is not about something that went wrong with the investments. It can involve any number of investment scams. What's unique about affinity fraud is how it comes about. It preys upon members of identifiable groups, such as ethnic or religious communities. Typically, the perpetrators who commit affinity fraud are, or pretend to be, members of the same group they cheat. They develop a sense of trust by being from the same community, sharing a common heritage. They overcome others' natural skepticism because, as Mary believed, "Someone like me surely can be trusted, because we share the same background and interests."
State regulators report getting a steady stream of complaints from surprised and perplexed victims of friends, neighbors, fellow club or church members—even members of their own family. Newspaper accounts of Bernie Madoff's alleged elaborate investment scams note that almost all of the victims were Jewish. Other scams have focused on Jehovah's Witnesses, Baptist congregations, and Korean and Armenian communities.
How to avoid affinity fraud:
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