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Investing Specialists

Seniors: Beware of Affinity Fraud

Read these tips to protect yourself from falling prey to the next big scam.

In hindsight, a scam like the one Bernie Madoff perpetrated on his victims looks like it should've been a cinch to detect. Madoff's clients were promised steady returns of 10%-12% per year; that should've looked impossible even to novice investors, particularly given the extreme market volatility that marked the first decade of the 21st century. Financial analyst and Madoff whistle-blower Harry Markopolos said he knew that Madoff had faked his clients' returns within five minutes of seeing them.

Much ink has been spilled over how Madoff managed such a swindle--a court-appointed trustee estimated client losses in the $18 billion range--but one of his methods was clear: Using a technique called affinity fraud, Madoff presented himself as a trusted member of communities at the same time he was trying to separate them from their money. Various Jewish organizations and institutions, as well as Jewish individuals planning for their own financial goals, were hit particularly hard: In addition to losing millions, several charitable entities were forced to lay off staff or close altogether.