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Trust and verify should be your mantra

Your Bermuda financial review summary is over. You are now moving forward to taking control of your finances, in our unique Bermuda financial environment.

You've realised you have some gaps, say in life or property coverage; you saved a bit and now would like to start a small investment fund, or you know that you seriously need to update your estate plan and will.

Where do you start?

You will be challenged because you must undertake a basic understanding of three items:

• the Bermuda financial environment;

• the qualifications (or possible lack thereof) of an individual finance person you choose to work with;

• the financial product you may purchase.

And, if there were to be a fourth item, learn how to use the internet to your advantage.

For almost 16 years, since February 2000, I have written a weekly Moneywise column — more than 750 articles to date on a wide range of illuminating financial subjects for the Money section (previously Personal Finance) of The Royal Gazette. My opinions, rants (sometimes) and experience in offshore and onshore financial matters have ranged the gamut. People still ask me how I can possibly find topics of interest.

The answer? Our finances are the biggest concerns in our lives next to our relationships and our health. There is a never-ending stream of current financial topics to understand. It is my mission always to help with that understanding. I have a serious personal commitment to you, and I care deeply about your financial success, my wish is that everyone becomes more financially successful than they were last year.

I will provide some resources and references to allow you to perform you own due diligence, independently of advice from friends, relatives like your brother-in-law or your aunt who care about you and profess to know all things financial (maybe they do), your pastoral counsellors (God love them), an outside visiting “expert” financial salesperson, your local banker, the butcher, baker, candlestick maker and more.

Trust and verify is your new mantra. All of the above individuals may be well intended, but a basic cynic like me never completely believes their advice. In fact, under my professional fiduciary standards, I must independently verify information provided to me. Always. You too must be prepared to verify before making your own informed decisions.

Why do you need to do this? Scammers, hackers, misrepresenters of qualifications, and fraudsters are all lurking thereabouts to take advantage of your trusting nature, ignorance of complex financial products, your feelings of intimidation, subliminal peer pressure, and or misunderstandings of how our economy affects your financial interests.

Keeping current on financial issues and being aware of how to detect threats to your financial existence (even on a small scale) is extremely important.

No one else can do this for you. To illustrate this, here is a true story.

A woman came to me a number of years ago and said: “ I invested XXXX dollars with this man, who came to one of my social circles.

“He was such a nice man, well-dressed, some people seemed to know him. I thought he had credibility and the return he offered on this investment was really good. So, I gave him more money than I could really afford.

“I haven't seen any interest payments and now I cannot get any reports from him. The phone just goes to voice mail; he has never called back, and of course, he lives in another country. Can you help me get the money back?”

My regretful answer is: “Probably not.”

So the outcome is another fraudster without any conscience absconding with your cash, another possible investor whose trust is destroyed and won't be investing again anytime soon. She had a name and a company. Together, we surfed the internet and there he was, up on charges in the United States, convicted of money laundering, fraud, and theft of client money. Worse, he had no verifiable financial credentials, but what a good salesman. He appeared to be totally legitimate. So unfair, so exploitive of honest individuals.

Trust and verify. This is your new mantra.

Use the internet to your advantage. Many people still don't want (or can't) enter the internet age. Yes, I realise that not everyone can afford a home computer, the monthly cost, and all of those related items. But, you probably can afford a smart phone — the next best thing to a standing computer. It will work to your advantage to stay informed.

Overall, though, the toughest part for many is actually learning how to use these electronic devices to the fullest extent. Yet, they can be your best protection against misunderstandings of financial products and outright fraud. In today's hacker environment, waiting 30 days to review your investment portfolio or bank statements allows internet theft to happen (without redress) long before you ever find out.

The internet search engine is your friend. If you cannot find adequate information on a product or a service to make an informed decision, write to me. I will help.

Readers, two new series will start in the new year. One is called “Living your Bermuda retirement” and the other is “Bermuda investment primer.”

I am looking for volunteers, retired or retiring (two have already volunteered), and individuals who are starting an investment programme. All comments and information completely confidential. Your individual profile will be “changed” to further anonymise your identity.

Next week's column will look at understanding your financial environment, with advice on how to find detailed information on financial products and how to research the background and credentials of your financial representative.

To finish with, here are a few thoughts on Remembrance Day.

November 11 is a serious time for honouring of all those who have gone before; those who fought the “good fight” so that we all have the right of freedom: to criticise, disagree, illuminate our opinions, make our own decisions, live our lives the democratic way, and express our pleasure or displeasure with government machinations and those elected, by voting.

My grandfather served, like millions of his peers, in the First World War. He was wounded and died shortly after returning to Bermuda, where his name is now inscribed on the Memorial Wall.

I am reminded of his sacrifice everyday I am able to express my opinions in this column, or anywhere without sanctions or repercussions.

Martha Harris Myron CPA PFS JSM, Masters of Law: International Tax and Financial Services. Appointed to the Professional Tax Advisory Council, American Citizens Abroad, https://americansabroad.org/. The Pondstraddler* Life™ Consultancy providing financial planning, publications, presentations for Bermuda residents, their multinational families and connections. Contact: martha@pondstraddler.com

Be careful: You have worked hard to save your money, so you need to make sure the effort is not derailed by scammers, hackers, fraudsters or underqualified advisers

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Published November 14, 2015 at 8:00 am (Updated November 13, 2015 at 7:06 pm)

Trust and verify should be your mantra

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