Fool's Gold: an Account of Scams in the Job Market
Hope can be a misleading emotion. When someone is intoxicated with its alluring promise, one may not see a situation for what it really is. Despite already having experienced "boiler room" sales jobs, telemarketing scams and other bottom-feeding ploys, I was recently taken in by yet another operation designed to extract funds from the desperate. I wasn't one of their victims, but very nearly one of the predators themselves.
The first sign that something fishy was afoot should have been seen in the ad itself. Apparently, a "very prestigious firm" was hiring precious metals brokers according to the enthusiastically written ad on Craigslist.
Most of the time, the ads have been lures that fish for email addresses so they can send you reference links or other Bovine Excreta. I should'a known. However, I had dollar signs in my eyes, and that, mixed with a simmering desperation to get capital rolling in for child support and rent, led me to bite. I sent in my resume, and they called shortly thereafter to offer an interview. Hook, line, but not quite sinker... yet.
Let the Ordeal Begin!
The office was located in a business district of South Tampa, which initially was a good sign. I wouldn't have even gone if it'd been in a strip-mall! However, the location was right, being a high-rise office building with several major corporations within.
I put on my best corporate monkey-suit and went in with a pumped attitude to sell myself (out?) and found a phone room completely empty, save for three cubicles which housed some very loud and aggressive workers pitching the current market value of silver. Sitting down within the sparse office, I listened while the office manager explained the shtick. Apparently, they were an international firm with several years of established business, specializing in the sale of actual bullion. Since my preparatory research showed that silver is indeed a lucrative investment right now, I began to shine at the idea of making 5% of anything from $39k - $100k.
My second red flag went up. Why was the office so unpopulated? Oh, they were a new branch that had broken away from the conglomerate parent company, said the boy-manager (he couldn't have been more than 21 or 22.) Seemed reasonable enough until I could check it out.
I agreed to start the following Monday, and commited my days to further researching silver commodities trading. I looked the company up in the BBB and found no complaints.
My research showed several methods of dealing in precious metals. According to my new boss, we didn't deal with contracts, futures, or stock in mines, but only in cold, hard bullion. The story was, we could send people the bullion or store it for them for a small fee.
What a joke.
My first day in, several red flags went up but I persisted in observing the methods of pitching and asked a lot of questions. I was extremely put off by the aggressive brow-beating techniques that I was told to employ; training consisted of the classical telemarketing methods of overpowering the weak-willed, like interruption and redirection, evasion of questions leading into a pitch to close, extremely loud and obnoxious screaming to "elicit excitement", and other lowbrow devices. I was not yet on the phones, so I did not yet realize that we were not targeting actual investors. That epiphany would have to wait until day 2.
Once I was on the phone I discovered that most of the leads were extremely cold and recycled. Many prospects had been called the week before, and several had been called months prior but under the guise of a different company (the name of which I often sighted in my training packet). Most of these people being called weren't even active investors -- which at the the interview I was told were our primary prospects -- but instead were elderly, or small business owners. Again, I was told to push harder on the naive or weak of resolve, to extract a deal even if I had to encourage them to liquidate anything valuable they may hold.
The last straw came when I delved into the mechanism of the "leveraged account" by which they gave the prospects the opportunity to us store their metals. Apparently, though we could send them bullion (brokered through a genuine firm, but sold as if wewere the firm) the preferred sale they wanted us to push was the leveraged account; we would store the bullion which would then be used as underlying collateral to finance twice the amount in market value -- ie, they would control $3900 in silver even though they only bought $1950 -- for a small fee of 15% to include storage, research, testing, and unlimited trading, and financed at 12% APR.
"Isn't that a Futures Contract?" I asked. "No, they are buying the bullion outright, and we store it for them in a leveraged account" was the boss's reply.
"Oh, well, pardon my confusion, I'm just trying to understand the financial instrument behind the leveraged account option. I'll need to know, in case I get someone on the phone who knows investment. It sounds like a Futures Contract," I stated, "so, how do you do that... I mean, how do you use their bullion to play the market like that?"
I was flat out told "that's beyond your pay grade. If you get an investor on the phone just hang up." The flags don't get any more red than that!
The moral of the story is, pay attention to your gut. With the allure (a lure) of hope, it is all too easy to get suckered into participating in a shady operation if one doesn't persist in questions and stay observant. Surely someone more more knowledgeable in investment would have been able to spot the scam from afar, but with me trying to break into the field and win capital at a fast pace I initially ignored the alarms that were screaming "run away!"
I cut my losses of time and transportation cost, and said goodbye to big bucks at others' expense... hopefully there are still some opportunities for the honest & hard-working. But the wolves are entrenched, and one will need to balance prudence and caution with any stirrings of hope if the quest is to be won with honor.