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.