Your investments: Be on the lookout for retirement rip-offs

Always be suspicious of promises of above-normal returns. If an adviser refers to “guarantees,” rather than “averages,” this is another reason to be wary.

Money Shekels bills 521 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Money Shekels bills 521
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As time marches on and the generation of baby boomers approaches retirement age, there has been a big push in the investment community to cater to its needs. Most professionals have the best of intentions and provide good advice and planning for this segment of the population.
However, as is usually the case, there are also many “so-called” professionals pushing all kinds of schemes that ultimately take advantage of clients and cause them much financial harm. This problem has become so widespread that FINRA (the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, Inc. – formerly the NASD) regularly issues alerts urging investors to be careful, along with a list of tips for avoiding getting ripped off.
One of the first danger signs is a promise of unrealistic returns. For example, a few years ago large-print advertisements appeared in the local media offering a seminar about a financial system that supposedly returned over 50 percent a year to its investors.
After checking out the company, I found that its logo featured an old woman reading the finance page and smiling, as if she is having huge success and making tons of money. This only added to the unethical nature of this company, which was clearly preying on vulnerable, unsuspecting individuals.
Always be suspicious of promises of above-normal returns. And if an adviser refers to “guarantees,” rather than “averages,” this is another reason to be wary.
It’s also important to steer clear of any mail, whether real or virtual, claiming that you have won a foreign lottery or informing you that if you send some personal information and maybe a bank account number to a person in Nigeria or London, millions of dollars will be transferred into your account. (I would be a billionaire now if it was true!) While this warning may sound elementary, I personally know at least 15 people who thought this was real and were about to send the information. Fortunately, they called me first and a potential disaster was averted.
It is vitally important to remember that one should only work with an adviser who is licensed both in Israel and abroad. This will help ensure that you receive the appropriate advice you need, as well as providing a legal outlet for any potential complaints.
Your adviser should also preferably speak your language and understand your situation. Regulatory agencies, both in Israel and abroad, have made it quite easy for individuals to check if their adviser is licensed and in good standing.
Unless you have invested in some kind of private investment vehicle, always request official monthly and/or quarterly statements from your firm. An investor should be suspicious if these statements look as if they have been produced manually.
For example, I once had a client who received very sporadic manual statements, and whenever he asked his adviser how much money his account was worth, he would always get a vague answer.
If you are in a private investment vehicle, this is understandable because it’s not always so easy to calculate each investor’s holding.
But if you are investing in a regular account and your adviser can’t tell you what it’s worth, something is going on.
If you are already retired or approaching retirement, you need to protect your earnings. After all, you’ve worked hard for your money, and it’s time to let your money work for you. Chances are this is what you will have to live on until you are 120 years old. Be smart, and don’t fall prey to someone who has only his best interest at heart.
Aaron Katsman is a licensed financial adviser in Israel and the United States who helps people with US investment accounts.