(UPDATED with a few clarifications.)
That headline should attract the right audience for this public service announcement. I’m not going to name names here, but this website gets a huge number of hits and e-mails from people investigating potential business partners. To be clear, I’m not talking about regular people doing serious due diligence — come on down, google away. I’m talking about people with dollar signs in their eyes who are doing a cursory check of the generally unknown person with whom they are about to do a big oil deal. This one was more or less typical, though with better manners and fewer typos than average:
I hope my message finds you well.
I came accross your blog while looking for some info about xxxxxxxxxxx, which i could do some business with in the near future.
Do you have some more info you could provide me with in addition to what I found on your website?
Thank you in advance.
The answer to this writer, and to the many other people in similar situations, is that if a deal seems too good to be true, assume it is and call off the deal. If a businessman’s story seems plausible but has no truly independent confirmation, assume it’s false and call off the deal. If an unverified seller asks for money up front, laugh in his face and call off the deal. If a seller tells you what financial instruments to use (listen for terms like MT-103 or irrevocable LOC), assume that they are trying to steal your money and call off the deal.
To keep it very simple, here: If you think your counterparty may be a con man, call off the deal. I have heard enough stories like this one to know that when these deals go south, they go way too far south. Nobody likes to be taken for $10 million. But if you need to rely on asshole bloggers like me to do your due diligence for you because this is the only information you can find about someone, you’ve already answered your own question. Anyone with so little paper trail that you can only find them on this website is probably not a serious businessperson. Of course, there are exceptions. Some people are just private. But trust your gut.
If you have specific concerns or suspicions about someone, of course I’m always happy to hear your thoughts. If you call off a deal based on these basic self-defense tips, I’d love to hear about it — I’m always curious about the sleazy operators and how they get discovered. And if you want to pay me for a due-diligence job, let me know. But the short of it really is very simple. You want to get rich quick? Open a pancake restaurant on the Austral Highway. Don’t do gray-market commodities deals with shady characters.
End of public service announcement.