Why some free 'financial literacy' seminars may be scams

Posted at 06/10/14 4:31 PM

MANILA, Philippines - There's a new wave of financial scams victimizing overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) and it's riding the popularity of financial literacy seminars.

Floi Wycoco, founder of The Global Filipino Investors, said there are some unscrupulous groups who are inviting OFWs to attend free financial literacy seminars in Singapore.

"For example, they invite people. These people they are encouraged to attend because it's free. Filipinos have this mentality that they always want free stuff so they attend, knowing they will learn something new. But when they attend, they will be introduced to different real estate terminology which is something they never heard before," Wycoco told ANC's On The Money.

These free financial literacy "seminars" usually lure attendees with full buffet at a high-end hotel. A pastor would usually begin with an inspirational talk, then participants will be taught how to make balance sheets and financial statements.

"Then the sales people will come in, and they will look at the balance sheets of these OFWs. And when they see the OFW is earning this much, they say you can buy this kind of property or condo. The catch is, they won't just entice you to buy one, but they will entice you to buy as many as you can," Wycoco said.

The scammer groups use their marketing tactics to pressure the OFWs to purchase products.

"When you attend this seminar, you will be pressured to buy because you have to decide right away. Second, they will have this kind of networking style wherein someone will buy and will give an energetic feeling in the room. And when the attendees will get to be pressured, they will just say, 'let me sign'," Wycoco said.

If an OFW will say he doesn't have money to buy a condo, the facilitator will, "We will teach you how to make money from your name alone. We will teach you how to take out a bank loan."

On The Money's resident financial advisor Salve Duplito interviewed some OFWs in Singapore who have bought the condos say these are usually located in areas that are not attractive and are empty at this time.

One victim said he is torn between selling and keeping the condo he bought during one of these seminars. "Wala po kasi akong passive income and mabigat ang monthly payments niya," he said.

Duplito said these scams also have an unintended effect of making Filipinos suspicious of financial literacy seminars.

The Global Filipino Investors group, which is headed by Wycoco, holds free financial literacy seminars in Singapore for their financial literacy advocacy and they do not sell anything at the end.

The group discovered that once OFWs are bitten by scams, most would shy away from investing talks, even if they are legitimate.

"They don't want to be victimized again. Second, they don't want to pay," Wycoco said.

Afraid of scams, OFWs turn to shopping instead. "Filipinos are very impulsive. In Singapore, you will see the OFWs choosing brand new shoes, branded bags, gadgets. When you tell them, I have something to teach you, financial literacy, they say they don't have time," Wycoco said.

Financial literacy as a movement is now attracting scammers.

"Catch 22: Our people need financial literacy, and yet these financial literacy scams are turning them into ignorant victims. We need more fearless advocates who intend to do the right thing to stop this from continuing," Duplito said.