Lessons in Life
One day while we were having a few beers in Kemang, my friend Steve told me that his fashion designer girlfriend Tia was opening boutiques in Singapore and Hong Kong, and looking for partners to help her fund the expansion. He told me that he was thinking about investing and told me I should think about it, too. She was making lots of money and we would do the same as her partners without actually having to do any work, which is always an attractive proposition.
Steve had US$5,000 in Indonesia and he told me he was going to invest it with Tia in return for five percent of her business. I had received a modest pay out from the UK Fire and Rescue Service when I retired, but I had left it in a building society account in the UK when I set off on my journey around the world. I was interested, but first I wanted to know more. The next time I saw Tia, I asked her what I thought were some very searching questions about her business. As she was Steve’s girlfriend, it seemed inappropriate to ask her for any kind of written business plan or guarantees so after I satisfied myself that the prospects were good, I agreed I would invest US$10,000 in return for ten percent of her business.
In those days there was no Internet banking, and even a good old fashioned telegraphic transfer took a week or more. Because my money was in a building society, it took even longer. I had to arrange for the building society to issue a cheque payable to my father, and then ask my father to clear the cheque into his account and then TT the money to me so that I could give it to Tia. Clearing the cheque into my father’s account took 40 days ( yes, 40 days!) and then the TT took another two weeks. I thought it was never going to arrive and I started to get worried that I would miss the investment opportunity. Tia continued to reassure me that she would wait and not take the money from anyone else because we were friends. I was grateful.
After I had been waiting for the money for nearly two months, Steve came to see me. He didn’t look happy. He asked if I had seen Tia, which I knew was not a good sign. He went on to tell me that he had given her US$5000 a few weeks before, but then she had become very difficult to contact. Steve had called other mutual friends to ask if they’d seen her, and they said they hadn’t – but they’d like to know where she was as well because they also had “invested” in her business. Some friends had given her a lot more money than Steve – as much as US$50,000. It slowly became obvious that she was a con artist, a confidence trickster in the true sense of the term. Tia had been taking money from people and faking the success of her business using the money they gave her. I suddenly realised that while we had indeed seen her boutiques and her staff and all the trappings of a successful fashion designer, the one thing we had never seen in any of her boutiques was a customer.
Tia was never seen again. Steve and the other “investors” did report the incident to a very amused policeman, but they never saw their money again. I suddenly became very appreciative of the sluggish international banking system and all its archaic bureaucracy, because I would definitely have given Tia my US$10,000 had it arrived in time. Looking back, it was a stupid idea in the first place. We were just fresh meat caught in the headlights of a new and glamourous lifestyle. These days you could easily make a huge mistake in 24 hours or less. It was a valuable lesson learnt.
LESSONS IN LIFE