Back in December the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) put out the following bulletin. “The SEC has recently experienced a significant uptick in tips, complaints, and referrals involving investment scams. The SEC’s Office of Investor Education and Advocacy urges investors to be on high alert to protect themselves and others from investment fraud. Fraudsters use times of uncertainty and change, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic, to lure victims into investment scams.”
Earlier this week it was my privilege to be on an online panel discussing how to protect yourself and look out for investment scams and other online frauds. Organized and moderated by elder law specialist Mirit Hoffman Adv., joined by Alex Gaft, fraud and corruption prevention expert, we spoke at length about what to look out for and how to protect yourself from all kinds of fraud.
I told a story of an old client who believed he had won the lottery, from an email he received. He purchased a ticket to London to go claim his winnings. Only when I succeeded in explaining to him rationally that it was a scam did he finally understand that he hadn’t won and in fact had lost a few thousand pounds that he sent to the ‘scammers’ to “start” the process of collecting the money.We all receive these emails and most of us delete them. But you know what? There are people out there that start engaging the fraudsters and send them the money “needed” to release the large prize. It never occurs to them that winning a lottery without purchasing a ticket is impossible.
Years ago I remember receiving a call from a local firm that was “guaranteeing” 8% US deposits in a Georgian Bank, as well as secure real estate deals. When I asked which bank, expecting something with a presence in Atlanta, it turned out that it was in the country of Georgia– the home of Khachapuri bread – and at that time one of the most corrupt countries in the world. I pressed the salesmen on who is guaranteeing the money and he hemmed and hawed and gave me some silly answer. Dazzled with the promise of unrealistically high “guaranteed returns,” many invested and unfortunately became victims, losing most of their investment.
Remember the old saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” This should always be on your mind when you get cold-called or emailed about some kind of fantastic opportunity. If someone calls you using strong-armed sales tactics or says you need to decide now, it’s best to skip it.
No one ever became poor by refusing to invest. Unfortunately it’s not only fraudsters who don’t have your best interest at heart. It could be an insurance salesperson or a financial adviser that may push high-commission products that you don’t need or don’t fit your financial profile. Whether it’s selling a 15-year product to someone in their 90s or it’s like the call I received last week of an 89-year-old man who was sold an annuity in the US, and never realized that his money would be locked up. He also had no idea how the whole issue of beneficiaries after he would pass away worked, always be skeptical.
For the older population I strongly recommend that you give a child that you trust some type of trading authority or limited power of attorney, in order to be able to access accounts and make sure that everything is the way it’s supposed to be. You can still maintain your independence and control of your accounts, but as a safeguard it’s vital.
Too often there are stories of increased trading in the accounts of the elderly, in order to generate fat commissions. Or maybe an aide found a checkbook or credit card and also saw a signature, did a forgery and started to try and write some checks thinking that no one will notice. I once heard a case of someone I knew who befriended someone by giving him a place to stay when he was a bit down on his luck. Two weeks later the man got a call from his credit card company saying that there had been unusual activity on his credit card!
On my end I am regularly asked by my compliance officers about money movements that are not routine. As soon as something out of the ordinary happens it’s my responsibility to make sure that it’s the client’s instructions. I think the same type of policies should be implemented by families in order to protect elderly parents. If something seems odd or out of the ordinary, start asking questions immediately.
I don’t want to scare everyone into thinking that they are going to get wiped out financially by fraud. I do want people to open their eyes and to be smart about their finances.
The information contained in this article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily the opinion of Portfolio Resources Group, Inc. or its affiliates.Aaron Katsman is author of Retirement GPS: How to Navigate Your Way to A Secure Financial Future with Global Investing. Member FINRA, SIPC, MSRB, FSI. (02) 624-0995. www.aaronkatsman.com; [email protected]