The main points in a nutshell

  • A missing legal notice can often be a sign that something isn’t right.
  • It’s best to compare different sources rather than believing the first thing we come across.
  • If something sounds too good to be true, we need to exercise caution.

How long have you two been working in finance and how did you end up in this sector?

Thomas Kovacs: I have a financial blog called “Sparkojote” (savings coyote) and a YouTube channel of the same name. I use them to share my financial knowledge and experience as a private investor. I started my training as a computer scientist at UBS when I was just 16 years old, and since then I’ve never really lost touch with financial topics. I opened my first custody account at the age of 18.

Michael Ferber: I’ve been a business editor at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung since 2006. After my studies, I started a traineeship at the Georg-von-Holtzbrinck School for business journalists in Düsseldorf in 2000, during which I specialized in finance and the stock market.

These four advices will help you to spot and avoid false information:

  • Have you ever received a suspicious email or message via a messenger app? Use a search engine to check the content: Copy parts of the message and search for the source.
  • You should also definitely research other sources and then compare the information you find. For example, use sources from other countries or in other languages.
  • An over-the-top writing style or a lot of exclamation and question marks combined with dramatic images could indicate false information. The purpose of this style is to push the content itself into the background.
  • If you’ve become suspicious of an image because it shows something unusual, you can use screenshots to search for its origin, for example, using Google image search.

Landesmedienzentrum Baden-Württemberg

How can you tell if a source is most probably reliable?

Thomas: Never trust a source blindly; you should always compare it against information from other sources. A healthy dose of common sense is also important.

Michael: Ultimately, there are no guarantees. However, you can check whether the person works for a reputable institution, whether they are recognized experts, for how long they have been in the industry and whether they have been interviewed or quoted by other reputable media. It’s certainly helpful if they hold some kind of academic title. Of course what the person says must also make sense; their statements must be factual.

What for you are the signs by which false information can be identified?

Thomas: A missing legal notice can often be a sign that something isn’t quite right. Promises such as guarantees in connection with money or profits are dangerous – a reputable source would talk about potential gains, not guaranteed profits. What I especially look out for is whether what I am reading or looking at can be verified using the appropriate source information.

Michael: If it is too good to be true, then you need to take a closer look. For example, if the statement cannot be true based on your own experience or academic knowledge. Other giveaways are cheap advertising or over-the-top and conspiratorial content.

Have you ever been taken in by false information? If you were, what were the consequences and what did you learn from the experience?

Thomas: Not that I am aware. But it’s impossible to avoid false information entirely.

Michael: Luckily, I’ve never fallen for obvious misinformation with serious consequences. But one of the hazards of our job as journalists is to accept content at face value and thus unwittingly spread false information.

Thomas Kovacs

Thomas Kovacs

Known on social media as Thomas der Sparkojote (“Thomas the savings coyote”). He runs the finance blog Sparkojote and a YouTube channel of the same name, which he uses to share his financial knowledge and experience as a private investor.

Michael Ferber

Michael Ferber

Business editor at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung since 2006. He specializes in pensions, financial planning and investing. Member of the board of trustees of the NZZ pension fund since 2018.

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