By Lyn Chan
SINGAPORE — It is easy to be lured by promises of high returns in an investment that seems fool-proof, and if a trusted and long-time friend is part of the deal, what could possibly go wrong?
Jeni*, a professional in the health and fitness industry, in her 40s, found out the hard way that If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
“About five years or so ago, an ex-classmate from secondary school and junior college days approached me with a new venture she had just entered into. She was hoping for my support. It was a land-banking scheme led by a company called A2A Capital Management.
At the time, the company was based in Singapore but I believe that it may have closed by now. I never visited the main office, only the sales office at Raffles Place, that went by the name Wealth Foundation. Presentations and talks were held there.
Basically, I had to invest a sum of money in real estate in Canada — Meaford Highlands Resort and Wingham Creek. Once a project qualified for development on the land, I would get a payout. On paper, the returns were extremely attractive: double the capital or more within five years or less. If not, I had the option to get back my original investment in full. The sales managers assured that it would be strange if it took more than three years.
Credible, professional-looking collateral such as the title deed and official contract, helped to convince me.
Did I have any apprehensions? Of course! I was afraid of losing my money, which was why I only pumped in the minimum of C$10,000. Besides, I had limited resources. The company was new to me, and I had no prior experience in that industry.
Ultimately, I chose to override my fears: My friend and I went way back, so trust was not an issue. I also wanted to do my part as a friend. My mum was suspicious of her from the start but she supported my decision anyway.
Besides the monetary commitment, my friend also roped me in to be part of her sales team. For every successful sign-up, the company would give me a small commission. I was able to recruit six people, who put in a total of C$150,000.
Three years into the membership, we were informed the sales hierarchy would be scrapped as the company wanted to handle the clients directly. It hit me, then, that something was dodgy. Questions ran through my mind: What's going to happen to my clients? What should I say to them? Why did the company come up with such a decision?
As expected, my ‘recruits’ started asking me for updates, and I didn't have any! I had to refer them to the company, which was really awkward.
I tried desperately to get information from a senior sales person as well as the friend who had brought me into the business. My friend, who by then had returned to her previous job, stopped talking to me altogether.
I saw red over my friend turning her back on me. I was in total disbelief at her attitude. The sales managers who did really well raking in hundreds of thousands of sales had also “disappeared”, leaving all of us in the lurch.
After six months of frantic chasing, I made the painful decision to just let the situation be.
Of the group whom I brought into the scheme, one was a friend.She hasn’t cut me off and we are still friends. I’m glad for that, although I feel so guilt that I got her involved. As for the rest, I am fortunate that they have not taken drastic legal action against me. I stopped liaising with them the minute A2A “took over”.
Recently, several members of the land-banking scheme have got together on their own, in a collective effort to claw back their money. I do not hold out any hope. I also heard that some investors lodged police reports a few years back.
Despite my ordeal, I am not sure if this encounter can be called a scam as there is a hard-copy contract, with many investors are trying to find a way to get their money back. Also, part of the sales spiel back then was, even if A2A were to shut down, you were still the title deed owner which meant that you could sell your interest.
Unfortunately, it did not occur to me to ask A2A — who would possibly buy small, individual bits of land? I am hanging onto the contract and title deeds even though I don’t really know what to do with them. Even if I wanted to sell my shares, who would want to buy?
Looking back, I was greedy and too trusting. There wouldn’t be any more investment schemes for me, no matter how experienced the person is. I no longer consider similar-sounding avenues which I have no experience nor interest in, no matter how alluring the promises sound. I will just work hard at my passion – my health and fitness career.”
*Jeni is not the real name of the interviewee, who prefers to remain anonymous.