The Biggest, Most Foolish Financial Mistake I Ever Made!

If you’re anything like the typical guy or gal, you have stumbled into a few financial mistakes with your money over the years. It happens to an awful lot of people, usually when they are younger and less experienced in such matters. But have you ever made a big, dumb, crazy, stupid money decision that cost you thousands of dollars? One that you are mortified to tell people just how bad that decision was?

Everyone makes mistakes, but when I was younger I made a huge, foolish financial mistake. Those can be hard to recover from but it's important to move on.

Guilty! I have a real doozy in my financial past, and I am going public today to share it in detail with all of you. Not even my mother knew about this one, it was so personal and embarrassing that I just couldn’t tell her when it happened, or ever. The only person who knew how dumb and silly my actions were was the other person involved and my wife. Or should I say my ex-wife…hmmm, could there be some kind of connection there?

A Bit of Background

The story you are about to hear is true, only the names have been changed to protect the guilty parties. If this is sounding a lot like the intro to the old TV show “Dragnet”, it very well could have been.

It all began on nice warm spring day, back in the year 1977. Here is my story of woe, a story that I will never forget. I hope will serve as a warning to you to adhere to the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!”

Back then, I was all of 28 years old. I was doing pretty well with my life: married, both of us had good jobs, and I was a new homeowner having purchased my first house the year before here in NJ. My children had not come along yet, so we were sort of bathing in good fortune as far as disposable income goes. I hadn’t learned a whole lot about being frugal since I thought that every year would just be a better one than the last one. In my few years after college, that’s exactly the way things were going. Young and naïve as that sounds now, that was the way I thought back then.

My Tale Begins

So one sunny Saturday afternoon, I’m listening to my radio out on my deck when I hear a program on WABC radio from NYC with a well know broadcaster talking to a guy from the “Sports Halls of Fame”. Hint #1: what the hell are the Sports Halls of Fame?

Is it the one in Cooperstown, NY? The one in Canton, Ohio? Was it the basketball hall of fame in Springfield, MA? Exactly. You probably know I am big baseball lover; I have been like that since I was age 5. So being 28, I am pretty much that same little boy whenever I am talking sports, and even more so when I’m talking baseball. They were talking baseball, and I was glued to it.

A Strange Coincidence

Now here’s the weird and somewhat scary part of this scenario. I am listening carefully to the show, and I realize that I know the guy who is talking about this stuff in such detail. I know his name, and I know him as if he were family. In fact, he was family! Or eh…he used to be. His name was Bob Mavis (name changed to protect all involved) and he married my sister back in 1958.

My sister was a blushing bride of 18 and I was her little brother of 9 when they married. Bob, a former baseball star who even played a bit of minor league baseball, and my sister moved off to Texas after their marriage and a few years later the marriage broke up and my sister returned home. I never really knew or understood why it failed and certainly at age 12 no one was looking to tell me any details about it. Now, even after 15 years had passed, all I could think of this guy was that he was my hero and a baseball nut like me. Just about everything I knew and loved about baseball he had taught me. This guy is on the radio and talking baseball and I know him!

After the show ended, I called the station in NY and tried to find out how I could contact Bob directly. I wasn’t thinking anything more than that I hadn’t seen or heard from him in over 15 years and I just wanted to reconnect. I didn’t even tell any of my family members, especially my sister, since Bob was a subject that was just never spoken about. Nonetheless, I called and acted impulsively. That’s where I stepped right into it and got hint #2: “If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is a duck!”

An Unbelievable Deal

After a couple days, Bob got my message and he called me. We spent about 15 minutes chatting and catching up, talking about nothing except about fond remembrances. Eventually we got to the reason he was in NYC and the “Sports Halls of Fame”! It seems he was heading up a new venture and seeking investors for his new business. This project was to create local sports halls in every state that would raise money for kids’ athletic ventures from some of the profits, as well as be a national franchise that made lots of money for its investors. The more I heard about the plans, the celebrities that were involved, and the events that would be included in the programs, the more my eyes lit up. I was so star struck and impressed that I blurted our something like “well what does it cost to invest in this, I’d love to be involved in something like that!” That’s when I should have picked up on hint#3: “Let the fish have a little slack before you reel him in!”

Bob had his hook into me. He spent the next several days trying to convince me that this was just too expensive for me even though he knew I would love being a part of it. The more he tried to discourage me, the more I wanted it. I finally said that I could afford to make the $10,000 investment in the project and I just had to be a part of such a wonderful deal that had so much potential to be a huge success. And besides, this was Bob my childhood idol doing it and he was on the radio!

The Point of No Return

Now here’s the sick part. The part that makes me so embarrassed to admit this after almost 40 years. He invited me to come into NYC and meet with him at his office to sign a few papers and receive my share of the deal in writing as well as my stock certificate. My wife was not too excited about it but after all I did know him and he was on the radio and well, it was just such a cool thing. So off I went to NYC.

I arrived at a huge office complex in Penn Plaza near the train station and there it was, “BOB MAVIS – Sports Halls of Fame” right on the office door. I was ushered in and walked around meeting 3 or 4 office people and having some coffee while we signed a few documents and I was told exactly what would be happening here in NYC and around the country over the next several months. Sports celebrity names were dropped and I was going to meet them when they came into the city to be inducted and that would all be top shelf in terms of prestige and benefits. Money would be made almost immediately from the proceeds of the induction ceremonies and all of it was explained in detail in the information I was given. It all sounded so great (see hint #1 please!).

I gave Bob my check and he gave me my papers and my stock certificate. It was Certificate Number 001. Hint #4: “Certificate Number 001 how can that be possible?” Can you see some danger here? I didn’t.

The Final Straw

I went home after that and was beaming from ear to ear, anxiously awaiting the next few weeks when I would hear about the first induction ceremonies in the city. Funny thing though, the next day, I got a call from Bob and he said he was going to be, coincidently, in my area and wanted to know if he could stop by my work office to talk about something. I said sure no problem and that’s when hint #5 fell at my feet: “What could be so important since yesterday that he had to talk to me?” Picture going marlin fishing and the marlin, Gary, is on the end of that line.

Bob had a simple request, a small favor that he wanted me to help him with. It seemed that Bob was a bit short on cash with all the investors still sending in their money. Would I, as a favor, go with him to my bank and cash my check for him so he could have that money for some of the various expenses he needed to take care of over the next couple days? My check wouldn’t clear in time so if I could just re-write it to CASH and go with him to cash it, it would be so great to help him in that way. So re-write my check out to cash and cash it out myself and hand over the $10,000 to Bob. Sure, no problem, anything for my old childhood idol! Hint #6, “How dumb can one person actually be?”

A Likely Story

The rest of this story is somewhat predictable. I gave him the cash, and I waited. I waited a week. I waited a month. I called his office in NYC and I didn’t get an answer, just a machine. I called again and now it was 8 weeks without hearing anything from him. It was then that I decided to go into NYC again and head to his offices to find out what was going on. I was getting pretty nervous not hearing anything and not knowing when I would. And no return phone calls.

I went up to Penn Plaza and up to Bob’s offices and what I found was stunning. There was no office. There not only was no office, but no one in the building had any recollection of Bob being in those offices which were vacant and they had been that way for 6 months according to the people that manage it! It was something right out of a TV drama. Now play the Dragnet theme and send in Sgt. Friday!

He conned me royally, or had I conned myself? Either way, it was a financial mistake of epic proportions.

Reality Hits Home

I then went and did what I had to do. I reported it all to the states of NY and NJ and filed a complaint about what I was calling a con job and my missing $10,000. I was mortified, my wife was ready to kill me, and I couldn’t bear to tell anyone what I had done and how stupid and naïve I had been.

Needless to say, I didn’t hear a thing about any of it again for quite some time. Then it happened. Laughable now, but at the time it wasn’t. I’m watching the news one evening and I see Bob being walked into a NYC police station under arrest for cheating several dozen investors out of a couple million dollars in his Sports Halls of Fame deal! Amazing, I almost had a glimmer of hope that I might see my money again. Not quite.

It seems that Bob didn’t have any of the money anymore. Somehow it had disappeared and even though he stood trial and was convicted of the crime, that money was never recovered to this day.  It seems that I and 35 other holders of stock certificate 001 were out of luck. About 6 years later, Bob was back on the streets and last I heard he was living in Florida and enjoying life, retired from the con games I assume. It seems that is how he made his living from the 60’s all the way until the day he retired. Who knew?

A Lesson Learned

I hope that this lesson that I learned the hard way is one you will never have to face. The moral of the story is “buyer beware” and do your due diligence before you commit your money. But the other point of the story is that we all make mistakes. What’s important is that you learn from them and move on. I know if I did it, you can do it too.

Have you made a historically foolish financial mistake? If so, are you willing to share it and help others to avoid that pitfall?

36 Comments

  1. Can’t say that I have ever invested into a scam, but I can see how easily it could happen. Unfortunately, you learned the hard way, and I’m sure it will never happen again. Hopefully, anyone reading your article who might be considering a “risky investment” will think twice, or at least do some homework before investing.

  2. Emily @ JohnJaneDoe

    I haven’t done that, but I have certainly given money to a family member with a false sob story…and so were most of the other members of my family. And I think that’s the thing…you had a connection, and he used your trust from it against you anyway. I’m sorry, Gary.

  3. Anon

    We have not invested into a scam, however, one time we did loan my father-in-law a sizable amount of money. He paid some of it back but when I realized that he would not be able to pay it all back (he lost his job and because of his age could not find another one), I told my husband that we would give him the rest of the loan as a gift. I did not want my husband to think badly of his father. From this I have learned that if I loan money to family or friends I have to be prepared to give it as a gift. If I am not ready to give that type of gift, I do not loan the money.

  4. Wow. I have no experience that competes with this story, Gary. I think there was more naivety in general back in the ’70s. I don’t think you’d make the same mistake as a 28 year old today. I’m glad your sister got away from him. Have you shared this story with her? I hope so. What a guy! And although he spent 6 years in jail, overall, it would seem he profited from his con jobs. Well, you lived to tell the tale. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Doesn’t it seem like a lot of white collar criminals come out on the good end, even after doing such bad deeds? I never told my sister anything about this. If I did, I’d be hearing about it on a regular basis. So this is just a secret between you and I and anyone who’s on the internet (hopefully not her).

  5. I’ve been a victim of identity theft. A family member stole my identity and later co-signed me for a bunch of stuff. Sadly, I wasn’t the only person she took advantage of. It took a few years to clean up the mess. For a long time, I thought I didn’t really know who I could trust because this person was supposed to be ONE person I could trust.

  6. Really powerful story! I have a close friend whose entire family was conned by a relative. Said relative has been in prison as long as I’ve known this friend. Bankrupted several families within the extended family. It’s easy to say what to avoid with the benefit of hindsight, but it happens. Props to you for being brave enough to share!

  7. Wow what a story. I can’t say I’ve ever been involved in something like this. I did go on a job interview once in the “financial services” where they offered free training, an entry level job basically for showing up, but the catch was I had to give a list of 100 of my closest friends and family to start my business. This just didn’t seem right to me and I never went back.

  8. Thanks for sharing that story Gary! Scams come in so many different varieties now that it is hard to avoid coming into contact with them. What scares me is how they prey on the elderly and less fortunate too. If you fell for something like this (and I can certainly see why you did), it’s easy to see how others can become victims too.

    1. Looking back now, I see the red flags so much more clearly. I think that people make the mistake that I made because they are just too willing to trust and when there’s a personal connection like I had, even more so. Hopefully, somebody can learn from what happened to me, and thank you so much for your comment.

  9. I’m sure that was a hard story to tell, Gary, but you never know who you might help out by sharing. It could happen to anyone. I’ve never been scammed, per se, but do feel like a financial adviser tried to take advantage of us when we were in our early 20s. When you’re just getting out on your own, making and managing your own money, I think you are more likely to become a target.

  10. So sorry about your experience Gary! That must have been rough. If only we could just wipe some of those experiences away from our memories! We learn through our mistakes over the years. I’ve been conned before too from family members just like Emily. Although they didn’t get a lot it was still a lot in my books. How they can tell their sob story and go on with life like it was true, I’m not sure. I couldn’t do it.

  11. What a crazy story, thank you for sharing. I have made a few mistakes with money but never anything like this. I’ve never had $10k to invest in anything but yet again I’m still pretty young (younger than you were when you made this mistake)

  12. Natalya @ Cottage Retreatist

    Gary, I was gripped by this post! I have never been able to make a large investment in anything but I always like to think about the line: ‘if it sounds too good to be true it probably is’. I always hope that will keep me out of danger!

    I’m so sorry you never got to see any of your money again, and that you were tricked by someone you thought you could trust.
    Natalya

  13. Kelly

    Gary, thanks for sharing your story. This is what I love reading financial blogs because I get to learn how to weigh decisions and to know experience of others. Good that it taught you a valuable lesson.

  14. Jen Pattison

    Oh my – that is a terrible story, and shame on your ex-brother in law for treating you so shabbily. We live and learn, don’t we? I’ve always thought that I was streetwise, but I was taken in on the streets of Budapest 4 years ago by a fake money changer. When I met up with my Hungarian friend he pointed out that I had one low denomination Hungarian note and the rest were worthless notes from former Soviet states! I only lost 50 euros but I still burn with shame and anger, and I never told my husband!

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