Thousands of people fall victim to financial fraud every year, losing millions of dollars. According to the Federal Trade Commission, American consumers lost more than $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021 — that’s 70% more than in 2020.
A record number of nearly 2.8 million people reported fraud to the FTC in 2021 – the highest number since 2001. An average person lost $500 in these scams, 25% of which resulted in a financial loss.
These figures do not include identity theft reports or any other categories. Another 1.5 million Americans filed complaints related to “other” categories, such as credit reporting companies failing to investigate disputed information or debt collectors making false representations of the amount or status of debt in 2021. In addition, more than 1.4 million Americans reported being victims of identity theft. According to the FTC, both sums are records.
I think it’s safe to say that the number and sophistication of financial scams are constantly increasing. The good news? By remaining skeptical and learning how to spot financial advisor scammers from a mile away, you can protect yourself and your loved ones.
The Appeal of “Phantom Riches”
It would be great if we could build wealth, wouldn’t it? Of course. But, at the same time, it is this desire that makes people want to invest in high-return investments.
Unfortunately, scam artists also exploit this desire to build wealth to make money from their victims. Known as “phantom riches,” scammers entice investors into investing with the promise of wealth. A typical investment scam will include a substantial payoff or guaranteed returns, according to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
In a nutshell, this tactic consists of:
- You make an emotional decision rather than a logical one because the scam artist promises riches.
- Your money is invested, but you don’t get anything back. Due to the fact that the “riches” never existed in the first place, the scam artist cannot pay you.
You’re Promised Guaranteed Returns
Your potential rate of return will be influenced by the degree of risk associated with each investment. In most cases, if you keep your money perfectly safe, it will yield a low return. On the flip side, investments with high returns are associated with high risks, including a complete loss.
It’s typical or fraudsters to try to persuade investors that extremely high returns are “guaranteed” or “can’t miss.”
In short, in this scam, the clients’ greed and dreams of easy money are exploited. It is likely that an advisor is scamming you if he or she offers or guarantees returns higher than 12-15%. FYI, a typical U.S. stock market return over the last 85 years has been 9.5%. The return is not a “safe” one, since there have been many years when returns were negative.
During Free Events, You’re Pressured to Act Quickly
It may sound like a great night out if you’re invited to a free lobster dinner at a popular local restaurant. However, as soon as you hear the words “Act fast!” you should be ready to flee. As a general rule of thumb, never trust a financial advisor who uses high-pressure sales tactics.
It should be noted, though, that free events aren’t always scams. To play it safe, before you RSVP, check out FINRA’s BrokerCheck, the CFP Board’s planners, or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors’ database to see the host’s credentials.
You’re Contacted by a Government Agency You’ve Never Heard Of
People who claim to be from government agencies often call, send emails, or send text messages posing as government officials — often out of the blue. For the sake of sounding official, they may give you their employee ID number. Additionally, they might have information about you, such as your home address or name.
Sometimes they give you fake agency names, like the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, that say they work for the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or Medicare. Also, they will give you an explanation as to why you need to send them money or provide them with your personal information right away. This is a call you should hang up on if you receive it. This is a scam.
The government will never call you, send you an email, or send a text message asking for money. That’s only something a scammer would do.
You “Owe” Taxes or Your Social Is in Jeopardy
Let’s say you’re at home watching a movie with your family. From out of nowhere, you receive a call from the IRS saying you owe taxes. There’s a claim that you need to pay now. If you don’t pay right away, the caller might threaten you with arrest or deportation. You might get your driver’s license revoked, too.
It’s possible the caller has some info about you, like your Social Security number. After all, it’s supposed to sound like the IRS is calling. However, this isn’t the IRS.
Even though most of these scams happen over the phone, you should also know that the IRS won’t email you, text you, or message you on social media. The IRS will mail you a notice if you owe taxes.
Similarly, if you receive a call, email, text, or social media message stating that your Social Security benefits will be terminated or your Social Security number suspended unless you pay immediately. You will be told that you must pay with gift cards, wire transfers, cryptocurrency, or cash mailed in.
There’s no need to worry about being threatened by the real Social Security Administration or having your number suspended.
A real Social Security Administration will not contact you, send you an email, send you a text message, or send you a direct message on social media requesting payment. No government agency will ever ask you to send money. Wiring money, using gift cards, using cryptocurrency, or sending cash is a scam. That call, email, text message, or direct message is a scam.
You’re Encouraged to Keep All Your Money in One Spot
We all know diversifying your portfolio makes sense, right? When your money is all in one stock, for example, and it tanks, it could be a disaster.
It’s possible your financial advisor has an ulterior motive if they’re recommending a certain investment. To protect your finances, a trustworthy financial advisor will always recommend a balanced portfolio.
You’ve Been Told That You Won the Lottery or a Prize
A lottery or prize scam usually involves scammers calling or emailing you, claiming that you’ve won a prize through a lottery or sweepstakes, and then requesting an upfront fee and tax payment. It is possible for them to claim to be from a federal agency in some cases.
You should never provide any personal or financial information to anyone you don’t know, including your credit card number or Social Security number. If they demand payment immediately, never pay an upfront fee for a prize.
They’re Selling You Products You Don’t Want
You should be cautious of anyone who tries to sell you or offers you financial services that you do not understand or need. You may need to question the education of an advisor if they recommend products that don’t fit your needs and your budget.
People you trust are promoting the investment.
Some con artists even get down on their knees and pray with their targets to win their trust, Michelle Singletary writes in the Washington Post.
As one example, a preacher was convicted of defrauding 1,600 non-profit and small churches of nearly $9 million.
Investors who don’t have much confidence in their investing knowledge or who don’t trust their own instincts have been taken advantage of by con artists for a long time, adds Singletary. In order to promote their scheme, crooks hire people who are trustworthy.
The scam is known as affinity fraud.
The word “con” in con man means “confidence.” Con artists gain people’s trust through affiliations with religious organizations or infiltrating a circle of family or friends you might not question.
Listening Isn’t Their Priority
A client-advisor relationship can often be viewed as one in which one person has all the answers and the other does not. Even though some truth lies in that characterization, an advisor-client relationship is worthless without listening to the client as well.
It is especially important for a person paid to provide advice on decision-making to take into account the individual’s particular needs and circumstances. It is important to ask yourself why a financial advisor is so determined to put your money into a certain investment.
Your Money Needs to Be Directly Accessible to Them
You may find it incredibly convenient to hand your checkbook over to your financial advisor so they can handle your investments. However, it’s also transferring your checkbook to someone else. Whatever trust you have in your financial advisor, you’ve just paved the way for embezzlement.
As much as possible, keep control of your finances. Your financial advisor should guide you, not drive your finances.
Their Abilities and Credentials Are Misrepresented
A good relationship with your financial advisor depends on your trust that they are better at investing money than you are. Consider asking friends and family for recommendations before hiring any professional.
Whatever method you use to locate a financial advisor, make sure you check their credentials to ensure they are legitimate. A good place to start is to search the list of professionals on the Certified Financial Planner Board. If you want to avoid a scammer, make sure they do not misrepresent their abilities and qualifications.
Investment scams: what are they?
Investors can be fooled by investment scams through websites, testimonials, and marketing materials.
One of the most popular investment scams is a Ponzi Scheme. The goal of this is to collect money from new investors in order to repay previous investors. Eventually, the money owed is more than the money being collected, and the scheme collapses, leaving all investors out of pocket.
Investment scams can be much more complex today because of the internet and digital communication. Scams like these are so convincing that even professional investors have been duped by them.
Scammers often clone legitimate websites of legitimate firms or get you to invest in scam investments that offer much better returns than savings account rates.
How to spot a financial scam?
Keep an eye out for these warning signs that an investment deal might be a scam:
- You get unsolicited calls, texts, emails, and knocks on your door.
- When you can’t contact a financial advisor.
- The only contact information they give you is a mobile number or a PO box.
- Despite being told it’s low risk, you’re being offered a high return.
- The advisor pressures you to act quickly.
How can you protect yourself from financial scams?
- Keep an eye on your accounts. Make sure there are no unauthorized charges on your credit card and bank accounts. Monitoring your online or mobile banking accounts daily can help you catch fraud fast.
- Take a look at your credit report. Make sure your Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion credit reports are up to date every year. You can get your free credit report every year from AnnualCreditReport.com, but beware of lookalikes.
- Keep track of your credit. If you want to be alerted to any activity related to your credit history and accounts, you might want to sign up for a credit monitoring service. You can use this to find out if someone is trying to steal your identity.
- Don’t forget to change your passwords. Use different passwords on sensitive accounts, and don’t reuse them.
- Be careful with online transactions. Use a secure connection when shopping online, and avoid public Wi-Fi.
- Dispose of documents properly. Shred old bank statements or other papers with sensitive info like account numbers, social security numbers, personal identifiers, etc., before throwing them away.
- All financial communication should be confirmed. Beware of scams like phishing, where scammers pretend to be banks and ask you to update or confirm your account info. Keep your account information safe by contacting your bank directly. Don’t forget the IRS won’t contact you via email, text, or social media to ask for personal info.
What’s the difference between consultants and advisors?
Consultants misleadingly call themselves experts to make it seem like they’re providing objective advice when they’re actually deceptive salespeople.
You should always be aware that anyone can call themselves a financial consultant since there aren’t many regulations. The result is that less ethical companies and individuals try to gain your trust and assets by falsely claiming that title.
Don’t forget that a consultant can help you make money decisions. However, they don’t have the certifications or licenses to provide financial advice or manage your money.
In other words, a consultant might not be authorized to manage your assets because they don’t have the right qualifications.
There’s no law that says consultants can advise you on the best option. As a rule of thumb, if a consultant appears to offer financial advice, they shouldn’t offer investment or financial advice.
What to do if you think you’ve been targeted?
Despite the fact that you may not be able to recover all of your losses, it’s imperative to report the crime as soon as possible. To get started, take the following steps:
Put together a fraud file.
Make a file with all the relevant documentation about the fraud and keep it somewhere safe. It should include the name, contact info, and website of the perpetrator. In addition, include the fraudster’s purported regulatory registration numbers, if available, and the timeline of events.
Be aware of your rights.
Victims of crimes have rights under federal and, in some cases, state laws. To better protect yourself, learn about your rights. To learn more about your rights as a crime victim and the resources available to you, contact the U.S. attorney’s office in your area, as well as the attorney general’s office in your state.
Inform regulators about fraud.
The federal, state, and national regulatory agencies for investment products and professionals may be able to assist. If possible, notify as many agencies as possible about the investment fraud.
- U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission: (800) SEC-0330 or submit a complaint.
- FINRA: (844) 574-3577 or report a tip.
- NASAA: (202) 737-0900 or send a complaint.
- National Association of Insurance Commissioners: Contact your state insurance commissioner if you suspect fraud.
- National Futures Association: (312) 781-1410 or file a complaint.
- U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission: (866) 366-2382 or send an online tip or complaint.
Also, you might want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or call them at (877) 382-4357. Fraud that is reported to the Consumer Sentinel database is tracked by law enforcement, which can stop ongoing fraud and stop such crimes from happening in the future. If you go through this process, your case will not be investigated criminally.
Report the fraud to law enforcement.
For the recovery process to begin, the responsible parties need to be investigated, and further damage to other individuals can be prevented by reporting the investment fraud to the police.
- Local Law Enforcement: File a police report with your local law enforcement agency.
- District Attorney: Get in touch with your local district attorney.
- Attorney General: Report the fraud to the consumer protection and prosecution unit of your state’s attorney general.
- Federal Law Enforcement: Submit your tip online or contact your local FBI office. You can also file a complaint through the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Take into account your options.
When assets are lost due to investment fraud, it can be difficult to recover them. The situation is not hopeless, however, as there are legitimate avenues to explore. An arbitration, mediation, or civil lawsuit may help you recoup some of your lost assets.
An experienced civil attorney can advise you on which remedies may be available to you depending on your case if you’re considering filing a lawsuit for financial fraud. Although civil lawsuits can take time and cost money, you should know that they can take a long time and cost a lot. In addition, you may have difficulty collecting even if you win.
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