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Too Good to be True

Every day we read about another Ponzi scheme which was sold to unsuspecting individuals for amazing amounts of money by self proclaimed “Investment Advisors”. Some of the sums of money, such as in the case of Bernard Madoff, are truly staggering. To have absconded with $65 billion is, to me, inconceivable. Mark Dreier who is only in the hundreds of millions looks like small change in comparison.

In Montreal there is the story of ‘Uncle Earl’ who spent somewhere in the $75 million range of other people’s money living the lavish life, never once thinking that this money actually was not his, but he, of them all in recent times is the one who is the most despicable. To be chasing after widows and old women for their total assets, including visiting them in the hospital to convince them to give him their money, sometimes on their deathbeds, goes beyond words.

The big question is, what is it about human nature that makes one so gullible as to invest such substantial sums of money with only one money manager. We are always instructed to spread the money around, as history has shown us, things are not always what they appear, and they best way to protect oneself is to invest comfortable sums of money in numerous places.

Over the years we have heard of some stunning stories, which leave readers with their mouths agape, of the deceit and cunning used to separate normally intelligent people from their money, the only difference being this time around, that the sums are greater than we have ever heard of before, and the utter gall of the perpetrators to live such openly lavish lives knowing there is no way the money could ever be repaid. How could they possibly expect that they would not be caught?

This note to the blog is short and sweet, and a simple message for all of you, spread your investments around. Do not let anyone convince you that they know better than everyone else. If the market is at 6% and someone offers you 18%, you should question the investment, and question whether or not they are a licensed investment counsellor. Check and see if there any complaints about the person or the firm. Don’t, above all ,allow anyone to bully you about how you should invest your money, and if they do, run.

If someone brags too much about their success, probably it is only in their imagination. Like anything else, usually it is the ones who are bragging who are in fact NOT successful. The ones who truly are, don’t need to brag, they already know.


An act of respect or politeness, something which is sorely lacking in today’s society. Within the younger generation, there is an extremely strong sense which prevails, namely an acute sense of entitlement, and with this, an idea that they are above manners and good behaviour. Brought up in a time where everything is about money, fame, and image, there is a belief that if one drives the right car, wears the right ‘it’ purse, and sunglasses, with an attitude, then one must deserve the ‘good life’ . Interestingly enough, contrary to what one reads in the trendy magazines, the loud, arrogant behaviour that one encounters daily, regardless of where it is, restaurant, club, shop, good manners are in fact alive and thriving, and as in times past, a regular item among the quiet rich.

For those of you who haven’t quite understood exactly what it is that is in the above paragraph, let me put it into the simplest of terms for you. Good manners are always in fashion, bad manners are not. About a year ago, I coined the phrase’ the bigger the strut, the bigger the loser’ , with that, the bigger the bragger, the bigger the loser. If one has to be always self-promoting, instead of allowing others to do it for you, then something is wrong.

People who are seriously successful and rich have nothing to prove to themselves or any one else, tend to be quiet, polite, discreet, self-effacing individuals.

When one travels and meets interesting people all over the world, and meets some extraordinary people, I can certainly attest to the fact that those who are generally the quietest and most self-effacing, possible with older clothes which are not fashionable, can probably buy out everyone there before they eat breakfast. It is usually the loud lout shrieking for service and carrying on like a bully with the wait staff who has nothing.

A few years ago in London, I was at the divine Nobu in the Metropolitan Hotel eating with the Managing Director and a couple of friends. One well known bachelor about town who is known for his bad behaviour was there, and act up he did. At one point, in a restaurant full of patrons, he started shrieking at the waiter about the appalling service he was receiving, frankly the service there is excellent, the restaurant was full. He threw a temper tantrum and with one sweep of his arm, swept all the dishes from the table onto the floor. Everyone in the restaurant was horrified. Somehow, he actually that behaving badly would elicit better service. He has been banned from the restaurant and from what I understand, several hotels in London for the same behaviour. There is nothing worse than a bully.

If you are out and hear a well dressed woman or man apologise for what is categorised as normal behaviour, you can probably make the assumption that they are excruciatingly rich and well brought up. It is only the poor and arrogant who behave badly.

Take heed, the successful quiet ones are watching you carefully, they may accept the cheque from the nouveau riche social climbing boor for their charity event, they may even put them at a relatively prominent table, but that individual will never set foot in the homes of those they aspire to socialise with, and that, dear readers, is what separates the truly successful from the ‘parvenus’.

So, next time you think you are impressing someone with an expansive show of bad manners, remember, you never know who is watching.

Social Climbers

Everyone has met a few of them… go to a cocktail party, and are introduced to someone who has an inflated view of their self worth, and is constantly looking over the shoulder of the person they are speaking with in case someone more important comes through the door. Some of them are more elegant and discreet than others, and some think they are above it all, and their disgraceful behaviour  towards others is totally normal. Whether or not you are 16, 26 or 60, we have unfortunately all been at the mercy of those who think they are somehow special, and deserve to hob nob only with the rich and famous.

One of the things about growing older (not me, of course!) is that hindsight is truly 20/20. As someone who has met some of the wealthiest and most prominent people in the world, it is fairly hard to impress me, and simply money is certainly not the way to do it. Having grown up in London, my perceptions are somewhat moulded by my childhood abroad.

At recent garden party, one incredibly rude guest RSVP’d, then turned up and took all the fruit from one of the host’s fruit bushes to make jam. She came into the kitchen to survey the crowd, and when she ascertained that there was no-one there sufficiently important for her, off she went, with no thank you, no excuses, other than the fact that she had ‘things to do’. One must ask the following questions…..1. Why did she RSVP to say she was coming.

2. If she had time to drive all the way over, certainly she had time to stay for a cocktail. 3. What could possibly be so important that she should snub everyone in the room by making it evident that she didn’t consider them important enough.4. And most importantly, the hosts had planned their menu based upon the number of guests who had mentioned they would be coming. It is rude and disrespectful to have your hosts provision food and drink for you and then not have the good manners to at least stay a while and participate.

Yes, we all had a truly lovely time, and interestingly the group had no social climbers, so everyone mingled and exchanged ideas and knowledge. Many chairs were exchanged so that people could move about and speak with each other. The sign of a successful party and very generous hosts.

There is some tasty irony in this story, inasmuch as this same ‘turbo-prop setter’ as opposed to a ‘jet-setter’ went bankrupt several years ago and lived at the generosity of several people over the years, yet continued to carry on as if the homes in which she resided were actually hers, instead of the truth, which was that she was actually living at the generosity of her hosts.

It appears to me, that if anyone should make an attempt to be generous, it is her, yet it appears etiquette is something sorely missing in her vocabulary. She has forgotten that she would have been living in the street if it wasn’t for the generosity of others.

Another well known social climber and snob is actually the mistress to a fairly wealthy married man. Seeing her walk down the street with her dark glasses is something to behold, yet many know exactly how her rent is paid, and it certainly isn’t with cash. She has decided that although the man will never divorce his current wife and marry her, that somehow she is special, and deserves special treatment, and only the best. The Hermes bags which are flashed are actually fakes, albeit good ones, the Chanel shoes are also copies, yet the arrogance and attitude of this woman and sense of entitlement are astounding, not to mention  the condescending  way she speaks and actually pronounces when she makes a statement, as if we should actually all be in awe of her.

Another social climber came into a dining room where 20 –25 people were seated, interrupted the speaker and the entire room to introduce her guest, and brag about what function she was coming from. She kept on for at least 10 minutes until the hostess was obliged to ask if they were staying or leaving. Funnily enough, they were actually leaving. Once she checked out the room and decided that there were bigger fish to be had elsewhere, she announced that she had other stops to make and would be running off.  Translation, she was going to the next event to see if the people were more important with her ‘posse’ in tow.

Several months ago, I ran into a woman I have known for over 30 years while  in a shop , after not seeing one another for several years. NOT someone I particularly care to socialise with. I was absolutely interrogated as to what I had been up to and with whom. It wasn’t successful on her part, as I always refuse to participate in the ‘my friends are better than yours’ game. This was actually one of the few times that I was publicly rude to someone. Her loud squeaky voice is jarring, and can be heard across any store. The questioning game was so astounding that at one point I advised her I was late as I was meeting someone at my house to write music, something I have been doing for a very long time, She squealed loudly that she was unaware I had ever done anything artistic or musical in my life, and this was news to her. Enough being enough, I finally turned around and suggested that if she had spent even 10% of the time actually getting to know me as opposed to gossiping about me behind my back, perhaps she would have actually known that I had been writing for years, and that in fact, she might actually have more interesting friends if she actually asked about people genuinely as opposed to always gossiping about everyone behind their back.

She is one of these women who have had the same group of friends forever, and they sit around and absolutely  rip everyone to shreds if they don’t know them, with a self-righteous tone, which is so sad, the joy of life is actually getting to know people from different races and walks of life so that one can learn and appreciate.

I never understood this game.

Young and old, we all face these individuals. Some of us realize who they are and what the game is,and learn to smile brightly while one is being questioned. Others are offended. The big question to ask, is, 30 years on, what on earth has been accomplished by being a rude social climber when decidedly you are in the same place you started 30 years before.

Is there a lesson in this? Yes, open your mind and more importantly use your ears instead of your mouth. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Ethics ……or lack thereof……..

I recently had a long conversation with a merchant banker who  requested information about a certain company. He was told that their  business practices are unethical, bordering on fraudulent. An example was given, and he suggested that next time he had the opportunity, he  would speak with the Chairman in confidence about it. He was  immediately informed that not only did the Chairman know about these  practices, but that he blessed them.

We are discussing a publicly traded company, on the verge of a major  stock play. Certain members of the executive team stand to walk away  with tens of millions …..

The will to bank millions was too great and he lined his pockets,  knowing full-well that there were many small shareholders who would be  losing out. Sarbanes Oxley and Bill 198 were passed to stop these  practices…but unfortunately there are too few to risk blowing the  whistle and not capitalizing personally.

It will be a very frightening day when the pendulum starts to swing in  the other direction, and the minor shareholders decide that they are  ‘not going to take it anymore’

The Taxman Taketh, and taketh, and……

One hopes, that in death, the taxman would be forgiving, but it appears that is far from the case. Not only are they not forgiving, but they harass  and intimidate to such a point that it is abominable. Imagine, your life partner for nearly 50 years has died after a long illness, first  your joint bank accounts are frozen, and you find yourself with virtually no way of accessing your money. No end of forms to fill in at the bank, notary, and finally accountants. All the proper documentation produced endlessly, still no way of accessing your cash…months pass, the forms from the banks and government are endless, and it appears the only way to deal with the never ending saga is to hire a notary and have the accountants deal with the government. Income taxes must be filed, forms stating the value of one’s assets, and declarations, will’s to be produced….and ten  months later, when one would hope it was finally coming to an end, the government in their infinite wisdom re-assess the tax forms going back several years, and decide to charge even more tax.

This is the way the government deals with those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Do you think this is one isolated case?

Think again.

Over the last year, we have heard of no end of government bailouts for large industry with the excuse that jobs must be saved. No one has actually stepped forward to explain where all the billions of dollars which are being used are coming from. Senior executives in some of these corporations are giving themselves huge ‘retention’ bonus’ to stay, in the very companies they have pillaged and destroyed by their greed. We hear of isolated cases of lawsuits against the senior executives, but for the most part, the populace is remarkably silent. Why you ask?

For the simple reason that they are being bombarded with tax bills by the government and are scrambling around stressing out trying to figure out where that extra $2000 or $5000 is coming from when they are already stretched to the limit.

In the last year, I must have spoken to 50 people who are being re-assessed for taxes, which, in many cases were prepared by accountants and not the individuals themselves. Every myriad of additional taxation, estate tax, income tax, re-evaluation of past taxes, revision of deductions, RRSP’s, and more. In every case, the person I have spoken to is quietly freaking out as they paid a professional to prepare their taxes, and they are being re-assessed, and are under the impression that they are the only one.

The man who owns a sun tanning studio who has had a ‘life style’ audit.

The decorator who was obliged to give up his fabulous office of 30 years due to a huge back tax audit.

The small business owner who discovered his accounts were seized, and had no way to pay his employees.

The telecommuter in the IT industry who has to provide proof that the portion of his home is a certain percentage of overall square footage, and is not used for any other purpose.

The consultant who is being audited for having a smaller than usual income tax return.

The widow.

The homeowners renting out a couple of rooms in their huge empty house as a way to help pay the escalating property taxes.

The retired couple living on an increasingly small budget as their investments are losing money instead of providing an income stream.

These people are typical individuals from every walk of life, eking out a living the best they can in a world recession

It is time to speak out. We see and hear about every sort of protest except taxation. Taxation which was originally a temporary thing, and which now puts people in jail or on the street when the government seizes their bank accounts, property and wages. No consideration whatsoever as to the damage they are doing to  the credit records of the hundreds of thousands of individuals they are assessing, many times it is inaccurate, but the damage they cause is irreparable.

You are NOT the only one.

The only way this problem will go away is if everyone speaks about it openly and agrees that this strong arm approach has to stop.

Suggesting that law abiding citizens who have paid for an accountant and are being re-assessed are ‘dead-beat’s’ is neither attractive nor the truth.

Credit Card Hoax= Buyer Beware

Over the years I have spoken to people endlessly about the abuses of privacy and credit, and the incredible damage which can be done  which is practically impossible to un-do.

Privacy, and the abuse of personal information, credit card and identity theft are running so high the banks and credit card companies are seeking any excuse to put the blame on the innocent victims.

A couple of months ago, there was a contest which looked like it was from a particular bank, so a young lady (20) filled in the information online and then never heard anything again. A couple of weeks ago, she received a telephone call informing her that she had won a trip to Florida and a tour of the Universal Studios….as you can imagine, she was thrilled, and, when they gave her the last 4 digits of her credit card number, she was more than happy to provide the balance of the numbers, as well as the security code. Her limit being too low, she quickly offered up another credit card to cover the balance of the deposit which was required. She called the office to speak to her father, and upon hearing the details of the trip, as well as the way in which the credit card information was taken from her, I quickly told her that she had been scammed, and that she should cancel both credit cards as fast as she could. By the time she called the 2 credit card companies, the amounts had been put through, and she was in fact, over her limit on one of the cards. We quickly brought her to the police station to fill in the appropriate forms, hopeful that her money would be returned by the 2 credit card companies.


As she had willingly provided the security codes, the companies said that there was nothing they either would or could do. It was now firmly on HER shoulders, and although she reported the incident instantly as well as going to the police, she was at fault. She is 20. How can an honest, hard=working student hope to pay this money back?

Through no fault of her own, she now risks bad credit to pay back a fraud.

Something wrong with this picture.

Last autumn, I was also the recipient of a similar telephone call. The timing was interesting, as I had recently spoken to a group about the very subject, and not a week later I received a call telling me that I had won a cruise!   As I rarely enter contests, it sounded a bit strange. The fact that there was no name on the telephone under call display as well as a strange telephone number on the display, made me doubt the caller. It also sounded like a telephone call center in the background, too many voices, too animated, but, WOW! Was the caller smooth. He identified himself as ‘Jason” and told me I had won a cruise, and required a valid credit card number to process my trip. I told him that I don’t have one. He then proceeded to argue with me saying that he knew I had an ‘emergency’ credit card number, and that he had it on file, so would I confirm it. I laughed and told him that he should tell me which credit card number he had, as it had been 15 years since I had a credit card. He was amazingly smooth on the telephone and laughed me off, saying that he knew I had a ‘secret’ credit card for travel and we both knew about it. I kept asking him what credit card it was and he kept changing the subject. He was incredibly well trained at the art of turning a conversation around. He kept insisting that I had a  secret credit card ,and that he needed it as a security deposit incase I had a ‘rock star moment’ on the cruise and trashed my room, so that they were covered. I finally told him that as far as I was concerned, the call was a hoax, there was no cruise, I had not entered any contests, and he was not getting a non-existent credit card number, and he hung up the telephone.

Two nights later I was at an event, and one of the participants came running up to me to thank me for my constant discussions of fraud and credit card abuses, she is a retired woman in her 80’s who lives alone, and she had received the same telephone call, they had been equally charming with her on the telephone and she went along with the call ….until she hung up the receiver and realized she had been scammed. She immediately rang up the credit card company and cancelled her card, and thanked me profusely for discussing the issue relentlessly. She actually got to the credit card company before the charge was put through, and was saved. Unfortunately, in the case of our pretty 20 year old, she lost her money and the credit card company told her that because she willingly gave out her codes, they wouldn’t do anything about it, she would have to pay the money. Even though it is fraud, and she has a police report.

Be careful out there folks, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If someone calls you saying you won a contest and requests your

Credit card information, do the smart thing, ask for their name, company name and telephone number and check them out. Chances are, they will either hang up on you, or give you a number which is not ever answered,, and that will be your proof of fraud. Report them to the police regularly, that is the only way this illicit behaviour will stop.

Collection Agencies

Overzealous thugs.

No, I am not being kind. If most people were aware of how their credit information is used, and the abuses in the system, they would think twice before giving all the information freely which is requested.

The current system works on the magical assumption that most people work and are paid weekly, bi-weekly or monthly, and therefore all bills are due on the beginning of the month. However, during the last 10 years, that situation has changed drastically, and the financial models which are used are in many cases no longer suitable. For individuals who are self-employed, one does the work, invoices, and waits anywhere from 10 days to 2 months. The total elapse time is 3 months. The credit system works on the old model, so if someone is 3 months behind paying their bills, they are immediately labeled a ‘deadbeat’, and bills are placed into collection.

With more and more people not having land lines, and relying entirely on mobile telephones, and changing their numbers and providers on a fairly regular basis, it makes for interesting times for collectors.

One of my business associates has been bombarded with telephone calls from a collection agency for the past month, with calls at all hours of the day, as well as on the weekend. The bill collector calls his home and asked him to identify himself, which, of course, being in the IT industry, and most importantly within the Identity and Privacy specialist, he refused to do. He asked over and over who they were, why they were calling, and they became increasingly hostile and belligerent over the telephone. He became so exasperated that at one point he threatened to call the police if they didn’t stop calling  over and over. He insisted to speak with a supervisor, also to no avail. Finally, after a complete day of rude non-stop calls, a supervisor finally called back. She confirmed the telephone number, it was correct, she confirmed the name, also correct, after much discussion, she finally admitted she was from a collection agency, so he inquired  exactly which bill it was that he was supposed to have not paid, it was an account he doesn’t have. The conversation ensued, she then asked if he lived in a particular town, considering the telephone number, it would have been impossible as the area codes do not correspond. That being said, she then asked if his birthday was a particular day and a particular month, it was not. So, it turns out, the person they were seeking had the same name, lives in a different area, has a different birth date, and is no relation. She then admitted that they were working their way through the telephone book and calling everyone with that name. No apologies, simply that she would update the file and they would cease calling.

We had a long discussion about the credit system, he then called the telephone company and had to pay to have his telephone number changed and unlisted.

This is disgraceful. The wrong person, the wrong address, the wrong everything, yet legally they have the right to call and threaten and treat people as deadbeats.

What is the reason for this article? To make you all mindful of the way the system works, and to warn you of a credit system gone mad.

Don’t give out your personal information to anyone unless you know who they are, and are aware of the use of the information. Give as little as possible, don’t believe the rhetoric about how it is necessary. In most cases it is not.