I’ve been watching events unfold in the last year or so in the FI Community with some alarm and I can no longer keep silent about what I’m seeing. I hesitated about writing this post, as I try to keep this blog about my experiences on the path to Financial Independence and not about “drama” in the community at large. However, I realized not saying anything might lead some of you astray on your path to FI and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if that happened.
According to the SEC, Affinity Fraud “targets members of identifiable groups, such as the elderly, or religious or ethnic communities. The fraudsters involved in affinity scams often are – or pretend to be – members of the group. They may enlist respected leaders from the group to spread the word about the scheme, convincing them it is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraud they helped to promote.
These scams exploit the trust and friendship that exists in groups of people. (emphasis mine) Because of the tight-knit structure of many groups, outsiders may not know about the affinity scam. Victims may try to work things out within the group rather than notify authorities or pursue legal remedies.” Source
I believe the FI Community is big enough, mainstream enough, to now attract affinity fraud to the space.
The personal finance space online started with the purest of intentions: educate people on personal finances, either through budgeting, achieving financial independence or starting a side hustle for extra income. Blogs were created to freely share information and experiences with the world. Groups of people started to form and collaborate with each other. Different media streams like podcasts and YouTube channels popped up. Companies were started to spread the good word of personal finances to the indebted masses.
So far, so good. But it wasn’t enough. Some content creators realized there was money to be made by promoting products from various companies. Why not partner with fintech companies who have the same objective we do? It’s a win-win for everyone!
And then the community goes mainstream. Suddenly, people see you can make money from talking about money online and start doing it solely to make money. Unscrupulous people see people with high net worths and start trying to part them with their money. Other people take free content and turn it into monetized content. People see mainstream coverage of the movement and want in on the fame and recognition. The overall message of education has been set aside.
The FI Community is, by and large, still chock full of people who want to help others better their money situations. I know many wonderful people who still help others with finances and earn a living. This post is not about those people. The FI Community is big enough now to be a fairly accurate representation of humanity, and humanity has a seething underbelly of people with sociopathic tendencies, little to no empathy, or compromised morals.
I saw the same thing in the military. The general public thinks very highly of those currently in the military and those who were in. The vast majority of people in the military are nice people. Some are genuine heroes who have done heroic deeds to keep us safe. Others are people whose options were jail or military. Still others join for the glory of killing people. Not everyone is worthy of respect for joining the military, just like not everyone in the FI community is worth listening to.
I’ve been hit on by a married blogger. I’ve been warned by the whisper network to stay away from someone because I looked young. I’ve fought for friends to get their invoices paid for work they’ve done for other people in the community. I’ve seen the community welcome a registered sex offender (unknowingly). I’ve seen someone offer financial advice after getting fined by FINRA and losing their broker’s license for shady behavior. I’ve seen screenshots of friends being harassed for their gender or personal views.
Whenever someone I know gets exposed for being an unscrupulous person, it hurts. I called these abhorrent people friends. I respected and sought out their opinions. They gave great advice.
People can give great financial advice and still have moral compasses that don’t point due north.
Our job, now, in the personal finance space, is to sift through the multitudes of people vying for our views and clicks and sort out the genuinely good people who want to help others and the people who want to use the community for their own gain in some fashion.
It absolutely sucks that we have to do that.
We have so many wonderfully diverse voices in this community! With just a few clicks of a mouse, I can step into someone else’s life. I can experience life through their eyes. Be in situations I didn’t even think took place. I can find experiences that challenge my assumptions about the world. I can grow and become a better person, just by reading or listening to someone else’s experiences!
My life has literally been changed for the better by this weird corner of the internet that likes to talk about money. I’ve been blogging for almost 4 years now, and podcasting for 18 months. I’ve made some kickass friends, had some incredible experiences and learned how to do things I’d only imagined were possible.
I want to keep those warm fuzzy feelings for the next round of people seeking to improve their financial life. And the round after that. And the round after that. I will fight to keep this community as great as it was when I found it.
Way back when I was a fresh-faced baby blogger, I wrote a post called My Manifesto.
I wrote: “I like to help people do the right thing.”
That remains true 4 years later, and will continue to be true for the rest of my life.
Thanks for being here with me!
Have you had a less than positive experience with someone in the PF community? If so, feel free to share your stories in the comments below or send me an email if you want your story posted anonymously.
Mrs. Picky Pincher says
Yessss. This is actually a reason that I’ve sort of stepped away from the social aspect of blogging.
It’s so rewarding and you meet so many great people. But I’ve also gotten creepy messages and downright mean emails/comments/tweets from other bloggers. It’s really weird to me, because FIRE is supposed to be diverse and welcoming.
Mrs. Picky Pincher recently posted…What A Frugal Weekend! February 24
Mr. SSC says
My life has been changed for the better too. So much of what I eearned about finance came from this corner of the internet. Fortunately, in almost four years I can’t remember having a bad experience, save one. I did an interview on retiring early and had 4 sentences broken apart and put together in a new sentence, which is out of context of the 4 sentences. Then I got trolled by someone because “retiring to be a SAHD” doesn’t count because women do that all the time. ♂️
Then I got to “love what you do, but this isn’t about your situation” from another blogger because I didn’t for the narrative of that response to the OP troll… I literally got dismissed from responding to my situation by people that said, “hey buddy, this isn’t your situation, you should stay out of this debate “.
Good times on Twitter and the main reason I quit caring about ever doing another MarketWatch interview.
All in all I’ve gotten way more positive than negative out of this space but yep, the trolls abound and seem to be growing. We just need to work to make our voices stronger and more positive.
Mr. SSC recently posted…Time Can Rack up Debts, Just Like Money
The past few months have really highlighted for me that we’re all still regular people in this community, even if we mostly try to show the best sides of ourselves. And regular people come in all shapes and sizes, backgrounds, beliefs, etc. Some are socially awkward; some don’t pay their bills. I still wouldn’t trade this community for anything, but I agree that we need to shine a light on these issues to help others not become victim to potential shysters and perps. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, so getting things out in the open and allowing people at large to see things as they truly are instead of how someone might like to conceal/portray them is really important!
Thanks for this message, Gwen!
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Tonya@Budget and the Beach says
Very well said Gwen! There is one other element I want to bring up that people can do as an option: don’t engage. I read The Daily Stoic and yesterday’s entry was about how bad for US it can be to always be in reactive mode. That we don’t necessarily have to fight ever battle. For me, I need to reserve the energy to fight for battles that mean the most to me. Sometimes I think people write things or do things to get that kind of heated reaction. In benefits them in some way. It’s tough because at the same time you want to stand up for people and let people know what they did was wrong. I have been very disheartened to see how the PF community has changed over the years (I’m going on 7 years!), but I also try really hard to engage and focus on the people are are doing good things, helping people, etc. They are still out there!
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Angela @ Tread Lightly Retire Early says
There are still so many wonderful people in this community, and I get the warm fuzzies all the time from what I know are lifelong friendships I’ve made here. I think that is part of what makes the sting extra painful — when something is extra good, the bad that comes with it feels even worse.
Abigail @ipickuppennies says
I’ve been lucky enough not to get hit on by other bloggers — probably because I was married — but there are definitely one or two people that I got icky vibes from when they were around my single friends. No one I feel like calling out. It’s just a shame that some people treat FinCon like a meat market rather than a place to share ideas and encourage one another.
Abigail @ipickuppennies recently posted…7 ways to manage money anxiety
Jim Wang says
Unfortunately, as communities get larger, they also become attractive for people with bad (or at least less than noble) intentions. I suppose you have to take the good and keep an eye out for the bad.
Jim Wang recently posted…The Backdoor Roth: Investing in a Roth IRA for High Earners
“Suddenly, people see you can make money from talking about money online and start doing it solely to make money. Unscrupulous people see people with high net worths and start trying to part them with their money. Other people take free content and turn it into monetized content.”
I know many people write good content and then end up putting it into “online courses” and sell them. I know that a lot of these people have best intentions and great knowledge and are simply finding a way to be compensated for that knowledge. But it’s darn near impossible to separate the legit from the scams. And TBH, most of the legit ones are comprised of information that can be found freely elsewhere and better yet, the act of finding said information by one’s self is precisely what builds the proper entrepreneurial drive.
I like JL Collins approach with his book — in almost every interview about it he mentioned that all of it could be found for free on his website.
I’m not shaming people that are selling content and making that dollah. I am simply stating that, to me, a lot of the time it seems to run counter to the idea of promoting financial independence. Not everyone shares my opinion of course 🙂
I used to look forward to Wednesdays, to try to publish new content and share it on ChooseFI’s FB group. More importantly, to read what other bloggers in the community were writing. Now, it just seems like there’s a lot of “Top 10 Ways to Save on [insert SEO here]”. I haven’t written a new blog post in about 2 months (for unrelated real life reasons) but the current saturation of FI blogs almost makes me feel like “ehh whats the rush”
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Mr Shirts says
I appreciated this and your original manifesto. I owe a lot of my financial success to early people on a Clark Howard message board I found in college when I was beyond flat broke.
I am here to pay it forward, I just eventually decided to own my responses in a site vs retype the same thing over and over. Just unfortunate folks like WCI, RootofGood, and Frugalwoods really smarted up before me since I remember them from 5 years ago.
I generally like most of the PF bloggers out there, they pay money to host a site and write content with the noble intention of helping others. It’s why I’m here.
The events of this past week we’re dissapointing, but this didn’t happen overnight. Some have built a large following talking about important issues of money and chosen to turn their twitter personality and/or site into devicive political stances, even blocking long time readers from their comments when questioned.
I’ve unfortunately been guilty or arguing with some and promoting others without understanding the impact and need to stop. This is a platform for good and I will continue to believe most people have good motives.
Mike of Mike and Jan says
Clark Howard’s podcast is one of the best ways to expand one’s knowledge base to avoid getting ripped off. NOTHING will protect someone more than a good real-world financial education.
Mike of Mike and Jan recently posted…Day 388 of Traveling the World, Queenstown to Christchurch, South Island, New Zealand. February 24, 2019.
Coming in with a great reminder of the good of this community. There has been a lot of negativity lately and it’s kinda sickening. Gotta just let the noise blow by and keep the focus on the good people this community has brought together.
DJ @ PenniesToWealth.com says
You are absolutely right about the current state of the personal finance community. It’s awesome to know that there are still a lot of really GREAT people here that genuinely want to help spread good financial knowledge.
But, like any other community, once you have enough people involved – you are pretty much guaranteed to eventually uncover some bad characters. I think that if we continue to uplift the people that actually want to “help” and if we all carry ourselves in that same light, other folks will have an easier time figuring out who’s actually worth listening to in this ocean of PF “experts”.
DJ @ PenniesToWealth.com recently posted…Impulse Spending Almost Got My Butt Kicked! (Here’s How I Stopped)
I am a public school teacher. There is a reason we are mandated reporters in the state of California. We are on the front lines of observing abuse of all types. I am lucky because I only have to “suspect” abuse to report it and I am legally protected. Those in the financial industry are on the front lines of people’s financial lives and should probably be vigilant in their own way.
I wish you luck in all of this.
William McVey says
I enjoyed the post, but perhaps it’s the skeptic in me, but I never assume that people that I meet informally at someplace like FinCon (or tech conferences or community meetups) are any more or less honorable than the average human being I’m likely to encounter in any other day-to-day interaction. There will be a lot of people who are generally decent people, some who are remarkable giving and helpful and some who are less so. Whether people fall into power-law distribution or normal distribution is perhaps arguable, but with any population of people, there will unavoidably be a sub-population of unsavory individuals. The bigger the population, the more likelihood it is that at least someone in the population falls into the long-tail extreme of someone who I really wouldn’t to associate with. Moving from “acquaintance given the benefit of the doubt” to true friend is something that happens over an extended period of interaction (much longer than the duration of most conferences).
None of these problems will change until people have the guts out publicly CALL OUT and identify offenders. Ladies — if someone sexually harasses you, identify them publicly. If someone is possibly committing fraud, identify them. (You can share it as your opinion, not as absolute fact, thus avoiding slander issues.) If someone is known for not paying those they hire, that information should be made public so others aren’t victimized. If a married person hits on you, consider informing the spouse and the larger community (I realize this is controversial, but I’d want to know if my spouse was trying to cheat on me, so in treating others like I’d want to be treated, I’d hope I’d share this info).
This blog post actually hasn’t accomplished much of anything other than making vague references to bad behavior that happens in any group of humans. If you really want to cause change and purge some of the bad actors from the FIRE community, then name names. Share specifics. Share enough information, including identities, so that others can protect themselves.
I especially hope that the MeToo movement leads all women bloggers to call out any and all sexual harassment and other mistreatment of women in this community. Unless and until it’s called out publicly and offenders are NAMED, the offenders will continue to hurt other women.
Gwen [Fiery Millennials] says
This is the closest I’ve gotten to talking about my experiences for a reason. When that married blogger made a move on me, I was a very new blogger and had little credibility. I had no reason to think people would’ve believed me back then.…… and it would’ve tanked any chance I had at blogging in this community. Now, years later, that blogger has helped me out immensely and is part of the reason I am where I am now. I have a lot of sympathy for women who are harassed in the workplace by a higher ranking person and don’t say anything. It requires tremendous courage and I’m not at that level yet.
I’m going to disagree here. The #MeToo movement is not just about speaking up, but also believing those who share their stories because it’s hard to do. People who have spoken up do face consequences, and the duty is not on someone to just speak up, but for the community to protect those who do — the fact is that that infrastructure still isn’t in place.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t technically slander someone — they can still take you to court for the sole purpose of draining your finances, as happens to whistle blowers of all sorts.
Blog posts like these might not be punishing those who have done something wrong, but it does open a conversation, makes Gwen a resource for those who may be experiencing something similar, and is a warning to those who act this way. I don’t see a reason to belittle the impact of what I consider a meaningful post.
“I’ve been hit on by a married blogger. I’ve been warned by the whisper network to stay away from someone because I looked young. I’ve fought for friends to get their invoices paid for work they’ve done for other people in the community. I’ve seen the community welcome a registered sex offender (unknowingly). I’ve seen someone offer financial advice after getting fined by FINRA and losing their broker’s license for shady behavior. I’ve seen screenshots of friends being harassed for their gender or personal views.”
Sorry for the wall of copy pasta but I’m gaping like a fish! I mean I know I’m a naiive person in general (someone told me soy sauce goes into making cupcakes and I believed them whole) but but but all this just crazy. I didn’t know anything of it…. except maybe the FINRA one. I hope we’re thinking the same person or else I guess there’s more than one fraudster. I like what Jim said, that’s one way to know the community is growing.
Steven Clutter says
Thank you for posting this. It’s something that I really needed to read to confirm some of the thoughts swirling around in my head recently. I have been following the FIRE movement for a few years, but recently pulled the trigger and started my own blog. I did it with the intentions of helping my family, friends, and clients that I saw manage their money so poorly. They were not doing it because they were bad people or unintelligent, but rather because they were taught a different money template that preaches keeping up with the proverbial “Jonses”. As I’ve started my own site, I have been trying to experiment with ways to cover the costs of running the site, but often feel like I am compromising my vision and integrity. This post really hit home and reminded me that it’s okay to not focus on monetizing it, because I honestly don’t care if it makes any money. I just want to be a good influence on those around me.
Also, it’s really sad to see people take advantage of the growing popularity of the FIRE movement. My favorite thing about FIRE is the sense of community that I’ve experienced, and it would be really unfortunate if the culture of trust and coöperation is tarnished by a few bad actors that enter the space. Anyway, thanks again for the reaffirming my own commitment to being a part of the community for the right reasons. Keep up all the great work.
Savvy History says
Nice reflection on a sticky topic Gwen.
“People can give great financial advice and still have moral compasses that don’t point due north.”
This quote really sticks out to me for a lot of reasons. I’ve been a black and white naïve thinker in the past. When we like to notice the best in people, it can leave us gullible! People are multi-dimensional. We’re all a mix of good and bad qualities no matter how altruistic our career, intentions, or overall persona.
Savvy History recently posted…What to Do With Lawsuit Money (Part 1): Pass it On
Well said, Gwen. In any group there is a distribution of people with noble to less-than-noble intentions. And in some groups the mean is shifted dramatically!
To take things in a slightly different direction, certain aspects of FI blogs have felt off-putting since the beginning. Those aspects are hard to articulate but can be captured by certain common phrases such as “that didn’t serve me”, to describe how someone cast off a job, activity, or person. The selfishness conveyed by this statement is in stark contrast to what is known of human happiness, which is found by in part precisely by serving others (the peak of Maslow’s hierarchy). This fact is not unknown to the FI community because MMM broadcast’s it regularly.
Another aspect is the idolization of purely passive businesses, meaning a business in which the founder scales themselves out. Four-hour-workweek and that sort of thing. While winning such a lottery ticket is not a problem in itself, the idolization of it seems like a bad idea because the corollary tends to be a dripping disdain for people who work regular “W2” jobs.
As a consequence, these aspects prevent me from attending FI events. Peoples’ intentions matter, and it seems like a bad idea to be around people who think selfishly and disdainfully. (That’s selfish of me :-). ) Furthermore, it seems hard to discern, a priori, the intentions of the people putting on the event. Recovering costs for web hosting or buying a microphone is one thing. It’s quite another to exploit people and look down on them, especially when they are supposed to be members of one’s audience!
I need to remember these thoughts as I continue to try to grow our own FI website! Or maybe I’m just too sensitive…
crossborderfi recently posted…accelerate financial independence with residential life
I had this idea a few months ago. I wanted to start a blog, but I don’t feel all that comfortable trying to have people sign up for finance surveillance to make $20 bucks so, I though… What if I could just write for tips like a street performer who does magic tricks or something like that. So… That’s what I’m trying to do. It’s wierd, but I’m just giving it a shot. I think the internet would be a better place if we weren’t all trying to get everyone to sign up for credit cards and buy stuff they don’t need, but I’m not opposed to making a few bucks either. I just prefer other payment channels than patreon.
BC @ FrugalWheels says
There are definitely charlatans in this arena but most of the FI people I’ve met so far are pretty good folks, as far as I can see. Really, I think the general rules of dealing with people apply here just as they would anywhere — take any group of people, no matter the topic they’re focused on, and there are bound to be a bad apple or too. I’m not sure why the FI realm would be any different.
I’m in a FB group for Singles in Pursuit of Financial Independence — there’s a couple of people I can’t stand, a few who are ok but a bit obnoxious, and mostly people who are interesting, and share my interests. Just as to be expected.
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