Here's the most important investment lesson I ever learned

It's a simple rule that serious investors like Warren Buffett live by. Here it is…

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I just got a message that made me quite nervous.

In fact, it made me stop what I was doing, and start writing this with a sense of urgency.

The message goes like this, in summary:

'A friend of a friend owns a geology company and he has just discovered two new gold mines. The shares are likely to skyrocket. I'm going to invest.'

I quickly got back to the person and told them not to do it.

They asked me why and I asked them if they had more information and they said they didn't.

I should have been able to rest my case there but the person didn't understand why I was being so sceptical.

I've had a bit of experience in the mining sector, briefly working in it directly as a teenager in Kalgoorlie and later observing it as a reporter in Karratha.

And believe me, all that glitters is not gold.

A prime example of the dangers of investing in companies that tout gold discoveries to a trusting public can be found in the case of Bre-X Minerals, a tale that should be etched in the minds of every serious investor.

Back in the 1990s a Filipino prospector, Michael de Guzman, working for the Canadian company Bre-X Minerals, emerged from the jungles of Borneo and told the world he had found gold.

The punters responded, pushing Bre-X's market value from a pittance to billions of dollars.

Then it turned out that Mr de Guzman had shafted the market and it was more likely that the gold he showed the world came from shavings off his wedding ring and not the jungles of Borneo.

To cut a long story short, a bit later Mr de Guzman's body, or a body thought to be Mr de Guzman's, was found on the jungle floor after reportedly falling from a helicopter.

It was a bit hard to tell who it really was as its hands and feet were removed, according to reports at the time.

Bre-X ceased operations in 2003 but rumours persist of de Guzman sightings.

So we must be cautious.

Unfortunately, there are people out there like Mr de Guzman, or even Mr de Guzman himself, trying to profit from unknowing investors.

And almost every week I see an announcement of a company discovering gold and other valuable metals and minerals.

So far this month Magnetic Resource NL (ASX: MAU) said they discovered a 21 ounce gold nugget from Mertondale and the month before they reckon they found gold at Hawks Nest and the month before that, more gold. Of course we must take Magnetic Resources on their word over this and it may be worth investigating as a stock.

The company certainly pays a fair chunk of its cash flow in staff costs, but when will shareholders start seeing it turn a profit?

Artemis Resources Ltd (ASX: ARV) is another company that seems to be good at finding gold but not so good at turning a profit.

But Artemis Resources Ltd did provide a golden bit of information at the end of its quarterly report:

"Investors should make and rely upon their own enquiries before deciding to acquire or deal in the Company's securities."

My experience has perhaps made me a tad sceptical.

But that scepticism has saved me and others money.

Not long ago a friend of mine was keen on investing in a company called Australian Mines Limited (ASX: AUZ).

I said it wasn't a good idea and she seemed a bit upset.

Later she thanked me when the share price shed about 10% in a day.

To be fair, there are many explorers out there which could turn into the next BHP Billiton Limited (ASX: BHP) or Rio Tinto Limited (ASX: RIO).

About a decade or more ago, I remember people slinging mud on Andrew Forrest and his Fortescue Metals Group Limited (ASX: FMG).

Well, he certainly showed them.

So, while thorough research is highly recommended for any serious investor it also pays to get in early.

And if you look hard enough, you will find gold.

Here's a start…

Motley Fool contributor Steve Holland has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool Australia has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. This article contains general investment advice only (under AFSL 400691). Authorised by Bruce Jackson.

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