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Don’t Be Fooled By These 3 Money Scams

It’s surprisingly easy to fall prey to a financial con, and not just because we want to believe that we, too, can get rich quick.

Even if you’re making sincere efforts to save and invest for your future, it can be hard to get ahead financially. Making that task even harder is that many of us occasionally fall for scams that can rob us not only of money but also of time and energy.

Here, then, is a review of three money scams that you might run across, with tips for spotting them and avoiding them and other financial scams.

Image source: Getty Images.

The penny-stock pump and dump

Penny stocks ensnare many investors — especially newer and less sophisticated ones. That’s because if you don’t understand some investing basics, they can seem like wonderful opportunities.

A penny stock is one that’s trading for less than about $5 per share. Such low prices can make it seem like the stock is a bargain — to those who don’t understand that a stock’s price alone means little. A $1 stock can still plunge and become a $0.25 one. And a $200 stock can always grow into a $400 one.

Penny stocks are usually tied to unproven, volatile companies, often with little to no earnings. And while the companies themselves may be entirely legitimate — albeit young or small — their stock prices are easily manipulated by scammers because they have relatively small market caps, and don’t usually trade heavily.

The classic pump-and-dump maneuver is an unfortunately great example: First, the ambitious con artists buy lots of shares of a penny stock, then starts hyping the company in newsletters, online, in day trader chat rooms, and elsewhere. They’ll present a compelling story, claiming that the company is on the verge of curing cancer, proving a new oil field, or exploiting some other figurative gold mine.

Naive investors will get excited, start buying shares, and push the price higher. The rising prices will often excite further investors to buy in too, adding more hot air to the bubble. The scammers will then quickly sell their shares at the inflated prices and reap the profits. Afterward, they turn off the hype machine, (and the company may publicly debunk the rumors) share prices fall back to their natural levels, and those who took the bait get stuck with the losses.

You can avoid penny stock heartaches simply by steering clear of companies with very low share prices — no matter how much you might love to own, say, 5,000 shares of a company for only $500. Also, beware of compelling stories that seem too good to be true. If the stock is really so great, those in the know would be buying all the shares they could, not telling others to do so.

Ponzi schemes

There may be fewer Ponzi schemes out there than penny stock cons, but it’s valuable to be able to spot their characteristics — because there are some criminals out there using the model. The most famous one — they tend only to become famous after their frauds unravel — is now-jailed Bernie Madoff.

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Ponzi schemes claim to offer high and consistent returns via “secret” investing strategies or other vague but profitable-sounding techniques — but in fact, they are cooking the books, and using the money from new investors to create illusory “profits” for the earlier ones. The investors’ assets aren’t growing, of course. There’s no savvy money management nor clever investing tactics — just schemers moving funds around behind the curtain, and siphoning off large amounts of it for themselves. But at some point, investors in need of their funds will invariably attempt to cash out more than the fraudsters have left in the tank, and if the new money has dried up, the whole thing will implode as con artists have to admit they can’t pay their investors what they’ve been promised.

Per the Securities and Exchange Commission, here are some signs of a Ponzi scheme. (These red flags apply to many other kinds of scams, too.)

  • Low risk, high returns: If you’re presented with any investment opportunity that’s described as offering very low risk and very high returns — or, worse, an opportunity that’s “guaranteed” to deliver high returns, beware. In general, high potential returns are linked to high risk. Lottery tickets, for example, feature a high possible reward, but a much higher risk of losing all the money you spend on them, while government bonds offer a relatively low rewards, but little risk.
  • Unregistered investments: Any time you plan to park your hard-earned dollars in an investment, make sure that it’s registered with the SEC or state regulators. As the SEC explains, “Registration is important because it provides investors with access to information about the company’s management, products, services, and finances.” Look into the registration status of any unusual investment opportunity you’re offered — do not just take the seller’s word for it.
  • Unlicensed sellers: Federal and state laws require people and companies selling investments to be registered or licensed. Ask about the status of anyone you’re dealing with, and then verify it.
  • Complex and secret strategies: How will your friendly fraudsters deliver those massive returns they promise? Naturally, it’s because they’ve found a secret formula. It’s complicated. They could show you the math, but it’s proprietary and you wouldn’t understand it anyway. Just. trust them. (Well, they can’t just come out and tell you that they’re scamming you, right?) If you don’t understand an investment, stay away from it.
  • Paperwork problems: Solid investment companies have solid reporting systems, regularly sending accurate and statements to investors that are relatively easy to understand. If you’re not getting statements on time, or if you’re spotting errors or confusing things in them, that’s not professional or reassuring. Take a closer look, and ask questions.
  • Difficulty receiving payments: If you experience any resistance when trying to withdraw money, or you’re don’t receive promised payments on time, that’s a huge red flag. If, when trying to withdraw money, you’re offered even better returns to stay invested, that’s another warning sign.
  • Unnaturally consistent returns: Ponzi schemes and other scams often feature very consistent returns — but that deserves your skepticism, not admiration. Yes, over long periods the stock market has always tended to go up, but from week to week and year to year, its results are lumpy, and even the most clever hedging strategy can’t turn those lumps perfectly smooth. The table below lists the S&P 500’s returns over the past 18 years, clearly showing why any investment tied to the stock market is likely to feature varying returns, not consistent ones.

Stash Invest Review 2020 – Is It Even Worth It?

Every new investor faces two challenges:

  1. The barrier to entry is too high
  2. Not having the slightest idea of what to actually invest in

It’s no secret that investing jargon can sound like a foreign language. This can deter many people from ever taking the time to learn what they actually need to know. On top of that, many brokerages require investors to have minimum balances and automatic deposits that are just too much.

Fortunately, those days are long gone.

Technology has been huge for lowering investment barriers. There are now so many options that are both accessible and easy to understand by everyone.

One of these options is Stash Invest. You can get $5 for free when you sign up and make your first investment!

Stash is great because the app allows users – who perhaps don’t have a ton of money – to buy fractional shares of a stock. Want to buy Amazon but a single share costs $1,000?? With fractional shares, you can buy a percentage of a single share.

Stash isn’t the only one offering fractional shares – the functionality has become popular and companies like M1 Finance also offer it on their platforms. M1 Finance allows you to build a portfolio of stocks and ETFs for free – yes free. No fees.

Plus, many of the major brokers now offer commission-free investing, so keep that in mind as you make your decision of where to invest.

If that sounds appealing, then I recommend you check out these 5 apps that allow you to actually invest for free.

Bonus: Stash Banking is offering a $50 bonus if you deposit $300 within 30 days. Check it out here >>

Quick Summary

  • Automatic investing app with $0 minimum to get started
  • Makes investing “easy” by really simplifying the process
  • Fees as low as $1 per month

Stash Invest

Product Name

Min Investment

Annual Fees

Account Type

Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, Taxable

Promotions

Why Stash Invest?

Stash Invest is an app that launched in 2020 after the founders set out to answer the question: why don’t half of Americans invest?

They kept coming back to one answer. Most people found investing to be un-relatable, expensive and intimidating. (Can you relate?!) From those answers, Stash Invest was born.

The Stash Invest app allows investors to start investing for free. Not only that, but Stash makes choosing investments extremely simple.

They also have low fees at only $1 per month, for basic banking and personal investing.

Stash Invest Fees and Pricing

Stash Invest recently updated the pricing and tried to simplify their offerings.

They currently have 3 pricing options – all flat fee offerings (versus the previous structure of AUM).

Beginner: This plan is $1 per month, and offers a basic brokerage account and Stash Banking account. It also offers free financial guidance.

Growth: This plan is $3 per month, and allows retirement investing, along with a taxable brokerage account and banking options.

Stash+: This is their most robust option, and is for families who want to save and invest. At $9 per month, you get not only taxable and retirement investments, but you also get up to two custodial investment accounts for your children (note: these are not 529 plans).

These options compare to Acorns, but are slightly more expensive in some regards, although you do get banking at every price point.

How To Get Started In Five Simple Steps

If you want to get started with Stash Invest, the sign-up process is extremely simple. (After you sign up check the bottom of the post for ways to quickly grow that balance.)

# 1 – Click Here To Get Started

Click here to check out Stash Invest online and get started on your desktop.

Click here to get Stash for free on the App Store, you’ll be directed to the app store and you can download the app to your phone.

# 2 – Fill Out Your Profile

Next, you’ll fill out your basic information and answer a couple of questions.

These questions will help Stash guide you on making investment decisions. It’s important that you’re honest with these survey questions because they help determine your risk tolerance.

This should only take a couple of minutes.

# 3 – Choose An Investment

Based on the answers you provided, Stash Invest will show you investment options that line up with your risk tolerance (conservative, moderate, or aggressive.) You can click on the different investments to learn more about them. (Don’t worry they’re explained in layman’s terms!)

The great thing about Stash is that they make investing relatable. Instead of crazy names of ETFs and ticker symbols, you invest in “themes” that are based on your wants, beliefs, or likes. We’ll talk more about that below.

Right now, there are over 1,800 investment options (stocks and funds) available on the platform.

You can invest in these for as little as $0.01.

Link up the bank account you want to have money withdrawn from to make your investments.

It takes about 2-3 days for the money to transfer into Stash.

# 5 – Confirm Your Identity

Verify your identity, create a four digit pin number and you’re all done.

How To Actually Invest With Stash Invest

Stash does things differently than your traditional investing app or brokerage.

Instead of choosing a stock or ticker symbol to invest in, you choose from themed investments.

This is a really great way to make investing relatable, while at the same making investing affordable and easy.

For example, if you believe that Americans will spend more on healthcare simply because they are getting older, you could invest in “Doctor, Doctor”. This investment is based on an ETF that invests in U.S. healthcare companies.

Similarly, you could invest in “Companies”. For example, you could want to invest in a piece of Warren Buffett through his company, Berkshire Hathaway.

When you click on an investment you can see the underlying holdings – real companies that you invest in.

Purchasing an investment is really easy. You just click on the “Add To Portfolio” button and enter how much you want to invest.

Fractional Shares

Fractional Shares are now available on Stash – which is great if you’re getting started with just a little bit of money. Fractional shares of most investments are available on our platform starting at 1¢, and customers can buy a piece of any stock or fund trading at more than $1,000 per share starting with just 5¢.

DRIP (Dividend Reinvestment Program)

Dividends are a huge driver of long term growth and returns – and Stash now includes free dividend reinvestment. Customers can automatically reinvest dividends across STASH’s suite of investment products, including personal brokerage, Traditional & Roth IRA’s and custodial accounts.

What To Do Next

The goal of Stash (and any investment account) is to build your portfolio over time. Stash Invest makes it fun and easy by creating milestones and ways to encourage you to invest more.

Once you make your first investment, you’ll get the milestones based on thresholds:

Stash also tries to show you your potential – by both adding new investments and teaching you the value of investing often.

Over time, you can check in your home screen and see how your portfolio is doing overall.

You can also enable Diversify Me.

  • Diversify Me simplifies the portfolio building experience and guides customers towards a well-balanced, diversified foundation in their investment accounts. STASH’s diversification engine automatically constructs starter portfolios that are tailor-made for each customer. Then, customers can invest their desired amounts with just one tap.

Stash Retire

Stash has a feature called Stash Retire, which is a retirement account option for investors. Stash Retire offers both Traditional and Roth IRAs – and offers the same investment choices you’d find in Stash. You can contribute up to the IRA Contribution Limit in a Stash Retire account.

Stash Retire is part of the Growth Plan, and it is slightly more expensive at $3 per month.

You can still start investing for free, but that could be quickly eroded by fees if you don’t invest more and see investment gains.

Stash Banking

Stash also recently partnered with Green Dot Bank to launch a banking feature on its app¹. They offer a debit account with no overdraft or monthly maintenance fees², access to a large network of free ATMs nationwide³, ASAP Direct Deposit™ which enables customers to get their pay up to 2 days early⁴, as well as Stock Back™⁵ the only rewards program where customers earn stock every time⁶ they spend.

Every STASH customer also receives personal guidance across every aspect of their finances—from spending to saving and investing‚ with actionable advice to help them get the most out of their money.

Of course, the banking aspect connects seamlessly to Stash Invest, to allow you to manage all your money in one place.

Also, with banking, you can do the following:

  • Round-Ups to grow savings on auto-pilot. Every time customers spend, STASH will round-up the purchases to the nearest dollar. Each time the round-ups total hits $5, STASH will transfer the spare change to the customer’s personal investment account.
  • Cash Back gives customers the opportunity to earn up to 10% cash back on everyday purchases. Customers can opt-in and then connect up to three credit or debit cards and automatically earn cash back each time they spend at participating retailers nationwide. Based on customer location, the feature will surface cash back offerings nearby, allowing them to conveniently discover new retailers and great deals at places they already shop. Customers can invest the earnings in their favorite stocks or withdraw the money at no cost.

Bonus: Stash Banking is offering a $50 bonus if you deposit $300 within 30 days. Check it out here >>

The Cons of Stash Invest

The biggest drawback of Stash is the cost. $1 per month may not seem like a lot, but on a small portfolio, the percentage is very high. $1 per month is $12 per year. On a $100 investment that is 12% in investing fees. That’s incredibly hard to earn back, and those fees keep coming. That can really kill your portfolio’s earning potential.

When you look at $3 per month (or even $9 per month), you need to invest a large amount to make the fees competitive to other platforms.

Let’s look at an example to break it down. If you’re interested in Technology Stocks, you might consider investing in Stash’s Internet Titan’s ETF. This ETF is actually ticker symbol FDN, which is First Trust Dow Jones Internet Index Fund. This ETF has an expense ratio of 0.54% – which is pretty high for a domestic ETF.

If you want to invest in a similar ETF at Fidelity, you’d probably go with FTEC, which is Fidelity MSCI Information Technology Index ETF. It invests in the same companies, and it has an expense ratio of just 0.08%. It’s also commission-free to invest in. The Stash ETF alone is 6.75x more expensive to own than the fund at Fidelity. Plus, you have that $1/mo fee on top of it!

So, if you have a $1,000 investment in this fund, it would cost you (per year):

  • At Stash: $12 (the $1/mo fee) + $5.40 (the fund’s expense ratio) = $17.40
  • At Fidelity: $0.80 (the fund’s expense ratio) = $0.80

In percentage terms, your investment would end up costing about 1.74% per year in fees.

At Fidelity, it’s just the 0.08%. So, when you add in the monthly fees, it ends up being 21.75x more expensive to invest at Stash than Fidelity!! All those extra fees are doing is hurting your return over time.

I spoke to Stash about this to see if they had any comment. The person I spoke to justifies the high percentage in fees by looking at what the customer gets in return of spending only $1 a month.

For example, unlike Fidelity, Stash has a beautiful and easy-to-navigate app built specifically with the user in mind (millennials). When a customer signs up to Stash, they are not just there to invest. they are there to learn.

Fidelity doesn’t exactly talk the user through their investment decisions the way Stash does, using layman’s terms the user can understand. Moreover, many people never end up investing solely because there are too many options on platforms like Fidelity!

It turns out millennials may be willing to pay $1 a month, even if by percentage terms that’s a lot, to learn how to invest, get recommendations on what to invest in, and most importantly, form the investing habit.

Alternatives To Stash

But if you’re like me, and don’t like high fees no matter how convenient and pretty the app may be, then I recommend opening an IRA or brokerage account at a mainstream brokerage like TD Ameritrade or Fidelity. What most people don’t realize is that you can open an IRA with no minimum, you can get access to hundreds of commission free ETFs, and you have a great app to use. You essentially can build your entire diversified portfolio for free, on an app.

So, instead of paying high fees and investing in their custom ETFs, you simply get a regular “mainstream” account, can invest in the same ETFs, and experience no fees.

If you’re looking for something that allows you to buy small amounts, check out ​M1 Finance.

Final Thoughts

With Stash, it’s free to get started. This is perfect for anyone getting started. Plus, it’s so easy to understand!

A bunch of $5 investments can add up to something big.

If you want to get started investing but haven’t made the plunge, consider Stash, but also consider other options. For every investing style, there is likely a better and cheaper solution.

Investment advisory services offered by Stash Investments LLC, an SEC registered investment adviser. This material has been distributed for informational and educational purposes only, and is not intended as investment, legal, accounting, or tax advice. Nothing in this article should be construed as Legal or Tax Advice. For additional questions regarding Taxes, please consult a Tax Professional. Investing involves risk.

*Clients may incur ancillary fees charged by Stash and/or it’s custodian that are not included in the monthly Wrap-Fee.

1 Debit Account Services provided by Green Dot Bank, Member FDIC. Investment products and services are not offered by Green Dot Bank, are NOT FDIC Insured, Not Bank Guaranteed and May Lose Value. Account opening for the debit account is subject to Green Dot Bank’s approval.

2 Other fees apply to the debit account. Please see Deposit Account Agreement for details

3 Other fees may apply. Fee-free ATM access applies to in-network ATMs only. For our-of-network ATMs and bank tellers a $2.50 fee will apply, plus any additional fee that the Atm owner or bank may charge.

4 Early access to your direct deposit depends on deposit verification and when Green Dot Bank gets notice from your employer, and may vary from pay period to pay period.

5 Opt-in is required. In order to earn stock in the program, the Stash debit card must be used to make a qualifying purchase. Stock-Back Rewards that are issued to a participating customer’s personal brokerage account via the Stash Stock-Back Program, are not FDIC Insured, Not Bank Guaranteed and May Lose Value. Stash Stock-Back™ is not sponsored or endorsed by Green Dot Bank, Green Dot Corporation, Visa U.S.A., or any of their respective affiliates, and none of the foregoing has any responsibility to fulfill any stock rewards earned through this program.

6. What doesn’t count: Cash withdrawals, money orders, prepaid cards, and P2P payment. See full terms and conditions.

The Motley Fool Reviews

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Solid and sober Foolish advice about stock investing and lots of free useful content as well as useful paid services. They do not guarantee every stock is a winner but provide the compelling and lived story that a selection of a number of stocks will allow the winners to vastly outcompete the losers and the resulting overall portfolio will outcompete the market. While the MF is about stock-picking, they do not denigrate those who want a set-it-and-forget-it portfolio of ETFs. I always feel better about my stock choices with the MF.

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Dear Sirs,
Motley Fools do not seem to do well with their customers. My observation is based on purely by reading all 474 reviews written by the users.
There is a way too many complaints- I read reviews because i would like to pay to get some professionals around me to supply me the information which i do not have time and skills to acquire myself.

What is going on guys? You are in business so i would imagine that you would also willing to keep your business profitable.

Based on this reviews, do you thing your marketing does a good job?
How much i really need to pay yearly to access all data you create?

Kind regards
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Thank you for your feedback.

We understand that many of our potential members may read reviews on sites such as this before signing up with us. You’re right – there are reviews complaining about (for example) the number of emails people are receiving. This is something that’s easy to fix. At the bottom of every marketing email, there is a link to unsubscribe. Additionally, you can log into Fool.com, click on “My Fool” in the upper right-hand corner, and then click on “Email Settings.” This will allow you to adjust your email settings to your preferences.

In regards to our marketing, we’re listening to our members and adjusting to their needs and preferences. For example, we recently tested allowing some of our members to “snooze” our promotional emails for one month, three months, or unsubscribe entirely. Or we make other changes – within one of our services, we now feature a “Monday Morning Briefing,” which gives a summary of the past week and things to look for in the week ahead.

Some of the other reviews are because of confusion in terms of pricing or renewals. Our renewal policy is clearly stated in our Terms and Conditions, which is available on the order page as well as at the bottom of Fool.com. Many other companies offering subscription services automatically renew their services at the end of the term. Before placing an order with us, there’s a box you must check saying you agree to our Terms and Conditions. In regards to the automatic renewal feature: our members can reach out to Member Services at any time during their subscription period to have their automatic renewal disabled. They can also go to “My Fool” and then “Account Settings” to see when their services are set to renew or expire.

We offer a range of services at different price points, but we don’t expect our members to join every service! There isn’t one singular investing strategy which works for all investors. Our services aren’t upgrades of each other – they simple follow different investing strategies and have different resulting risk profiles. We offer many services because we want our members to find the best fit for their investing needs.

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