Dear Mr. Berko: What can you tell me about Oil Boom USA? My brother is very excited about this oil partnership opportunity. He heard of it on Sirius XM Radio and wants me to invest with him in a full unit for $160,000. Would you?
Dear R.S.: I can’t, in the normal way, answer your question. However, I think you’ll come to your own conclusion after reading these comments and understand why I’m unable to give you a knowledgeable response.
When I phoned Oil Boom USA, which is somewhere in Texas, I was put through the usual “first call” screening process. Subsequently, my call was transferred to an intentionally engaging fellow, called Joe — just like the coffee! He continued qualifying me — asking what I do for a living, whether I have the financial resources to afford this investment and about other personal data — and then segued from the formal “Mr. Berko” to the familiar “Malcolm.” Holy moly, my given name is usually reserved for people I’ve known for years, for contemporaries, for folks I meet at social functions and for everyone who reads this column. Heck, even my daughter, whom I’ve known for 45 years, doesn’t call me Malcolm.
Anyhow, I’m often reluctant to tell those whom I’ve just met (especially at social events) what I do for a living. When folks discover I write a financial column for a few newspapers, they grab on to me like a Rottweiler, so it’s difficult to shake them loose without being impolite. Sometimes I’ll suffer listening to their bone-dry stories about the money they made in the stock market (always their ideas) and the money lost, which is always their broker’s idea. Eventually, sotto voce, they ask, “What are you recommending that’s hot?” It’s particularly tormenting when you’re sitting next to someone on an airplane. Thirty years ago, I would tell folks that I taught high school or was a civil service employee. Then they’d begin a harangue about what was wrong with our public school system or rant about the federal government bureaucracy. So I decided to tell folks that I’m a neurosurgeon or a quantum physicist. Few know enough to discuss either subject, so I’m usually spared the tedium of listening to a well-meaning seatmate on a long flight. A few times, I’ve been caught by a medical doctor, but when I quickly have fessed up, we’ve enjoyed a big laugh.
That’s almost what happened when I called Oil Boom USA. If I had told Joe that I write a financial column, he’d have hung up on me faster than I could say “shazam!” So I said I am a quantum physicist. By gum, he almost knew his muons from his gluons. We chatted briefly about string theory, and then wow, did he give me a sweet pitch for a $160,000 investment (a full unit), promising to mail a memorandum immediately. Unfortunately, no units were available. The next day, Joe called with a slight urgency in his voice. “I’ve got an idea,” he importuned and spoke of opportunity in a field of proven reserves that he had glowingly told me about the day before. He had one unsold full unit and avowed, “I can hold the unit for you and FedEx a memorandum for your immediate review.” “Thanks,” I said, “but I wouldn’t be able to make a decision that quickly.” To his credit, there was never a hint of disappointment in his voice, and he said he’d call me as soon as I received the memorandum. But he called me again the next day, a bit chagrined, and asked whether I am the Malcolm Berko who writes a financial column in the San Antonio Business Journal. I had to fess up. If he was amused, his voice didn’t show it. We chatted cordially for a few minutes, and he ended the conversation saying I’d receive the memorandum by Friday. It’s been four weeks since Joe called, and I’ve not received the memorandum. So I can’t give you an opinion on something about which I know nothing and may not care to know anything.
However, I can knowledgeably tell you that most financial opportunities advertised on Sirius XM Radio are a scam.
Malcolm Berko addresses questions about stocks. Reach him at P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775 or email@example.com.