Pete, one of my oldest friends, is a racehorse owner. That's a slight exaggeration – he owns a bit of one leg via a racing syndicate.
In early September, he was at Goodwood to watch the animal. It was a 50-1 outsider so it did well to finish seventh in a field of eleven.
But as Pete puts it, the horse is young and might improve. “In any case, racing is not about making money – it's a day out with friends and a few drinks. I spend money on this, others buy a season ticket at Chelsea or take a dozen short breaks a year. It's just my choice which I budget for and can afford.”
Others, however, try to claim the racetrack is the route to instant, easy, wealth. Now, call me an obsessive if you like, but I file away schemes which come in the post or email.
Make good money quickly, without risking your cash
Three years ago, a guy we'll call Raymond wrote to me out of the blue saying he had “a personal involvement in certain events which will be financially beneficial to you. I will explain how you can make good money very quickly – without risking any of your hard earned cash”.
Now the only connection with racing was the Newmarket address (which turned out to be a sweet shop), his claim that his father was a jockey (almost impossible to verify as his surname was hardly rare and, in any case, so what?) and that he “had decided to allocate a percentage of the money I'll be raising from this offer to support the Injured Jockeys Fund”. The fund is a genuine and worthy registered charity but the percentage could be 0.1%.
“I sincerely hope you give me the chance to prove myself”, he concluded. Looking a little further into the offer I could choose between a four-week trial of racing tips at £37 or a two-year plan at £347. The second promised to return my money if his recommendations did not produce enough winners.
There was a facsimile of a bookmaker cheque for £6,250 which he claimed was from one race two months earlier. This is easy enough to forge, but, if genuine gives no indication of how many losing bets he made. Equally, anyone can compose a list of winners simply by working through past editions of The Racing Post (or many websites) just as phoney share tipsters can use back numbers of the Financial Times to create an impressive success record.
He also promised “over £500 of goods and services” which turned out to be “free” bets bookies offer if you open an account.
Delving further, you needed £500 in cash to start with as each bet had to be £100, a very hefty amount for most people.
Winners and losers
So what happened to Raymond (almost certainly not his real name) and his horse tipping service? Certainly he took some money in – helped by the charitable reference although the good cause was not aware of his “generosity” - and he texted some tips over the next month or two.
According to some posts on betting sites, these tips were all winners.
But there were also complaints that they were all losers. They can't both be right so it could be that those stating he was a turf genius were sent by himself or his friends.
He did then eventually send out one or two winning tips. That's not difficult as all you need to do is to name enough favourites at very low odds (so your winnings for each pound bet may be as little as 10p) and you are bound to find winners after a time – it's virtually a statistical certainty. I could do that. So could anyone else.
After that, the tips stopped. He did not refund any money, telling people that they had to wait two years for this. He apparently told one punter that he had received an offer from a syndicate and “moved on to other things”, but promised a “super premium” service for £649 in return for another cheque.
Finding a serious tipster
There are, of course, genuine tipsters. Some work for newspapers – others provide more specialised services. So how do you separate the real from the phoney?
- Look for consistency of adverts. Someone who buys space in The Racing Post on a regular basis over a long period is serious.
- Check specialist racing and football betting websites. There are often posts praising the good and damning the bad.
- Avoid unsolicited mail. People who write to you out of the blue may disappear with your money.
- Be sceptical of “guarantees” - the only guarantee in racing is that bookies always win.
- Be especially wary of past records that are not independently verified as related to real tips.
- Ignore claims that you could make big money or easy money. You can't.
More on scams: