Markets

4 Steps to Avoiding Investment Scams

Be sure to invest safely.

Chances are, you may have been swindled at some point in your life, or you know someone who has. Nearly half of consumers surveyed recently by Stanford University's Center on Longevity and the Finra Investor Education Foundation reported being a victim of financial fraud in the previous year—a far higher tally than earlier surveys indicated. No socioeconomic or demographic group is immune. "Men and women, college students and retirees, rich and poor—all are potential targets," the report's authors found. Nearly 40% of victims never told anyone about the fraud.

Estimates are problematic, but Americans are thought to lose some $50 billion a year to financial scams. And there are indirect costs: bounced checks, late fees, trouble meeting monthly expenses and even bankruptcy. So it's not surprising that the emotional cost of fraud is also high, with 50% of victims reporting severe stress and more than one-third citing depression. The toll is compounded for senior victims, who have little time to make up for lost resources. "When elderly people lose their life savings, they lose hope," says Ricky Locklar, an investment fraud investigator at the Alabama Securities Commission. "To me, those crimes are worse than someone robbing the corner drugstore at gunpoint."

Here are four steps investors should take to protect themselves:

1. Recognize the art of the con. Scammers succeed with financially sophisticated victims because investment fraud is a crime of persuasion. Be wary of high-yield, low-risk offers, as well as anything with a guarantee. Question anyone who claims a special credential, experience or affiliation to gain credibility.

2. Resist pressure. Con artists exert social pressure by claiming that other savvy investors­—whether celebrities or members of your church—are already on board. Don't be swayed by small favors, such as a cut-rate commission or a free meal, and don't be rushed by claims of limited supply designed to create a false sense of urgency. Learn about persuasion tactics by playing Finra's interactive "Con 'Em If You Can" game at www.conemifyoucan.org.

3. Do a background check. You can find information about registered securities firms and brokers, including employment history, licensing status, criminal events, investor complaints and pending investigations, at https://brokercheck.finra.org. If you're working with an adviser, check out https://adviserinfo.sec.gov for information about a firm and key personnel, including certain disciplinary actions. You can also search for an individual to view that person's professional background and conduct. At www.nasaa.org, you'll find your state securities regulator, through which you can access extensive employment, disciplinary and registration information about a broker or investment adviser. Check out commodities, futures or foreign exchange dealers at www.nfa.futures.org/basicnet.

4. Research the pitch. Use the SEC's Edgar database to research securities (www.sec.gov/edgar.shtml), or check them out with your state regulator.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
How to Know When You Can Retire
retirement

How to Know When You Can Retire

You’ve scrimped and saved, but are you really ready to retire? Here are some helpful calculations that could help you decide whether you can actually …
January 5, 2022
The 12 Best Tech Stocks to Buy for 2022
tech stocks

The 12 Best Tech Stocks to Buy for 2022

The best tech-sector picks for the year to come include plays on some of the most exciting emergent technologies, as well as several old-guard mega-ca…
January 3, 2022

Recommended

Stock Market Today (1/19/22): Nasdaq Closes in Correction Territory
Stock Market Today

Stock Market Today (1/19/22): Nasdaq Closes in Correction Territory

After a choppy trading session for stocks, all three major benchmarks ended the day in the red.
January 19, 2022
Stock Market Today (1/18/22): Bond Yields, Goldman a One-Two Punch for the Bears
Stock Market Today

Stock Market Today (1/18/22): Bond Yields, Goldman a One-Two Punch for the Bears

The 10-year Treasury yield hit a two-year high and Goldman whiffed on its Q4 earnings report, sending 10 of 11 sectors into the red Tuesday.
January 18, 2022
Is the Stock Market Closed on MLK Day?
Markets

Is the Stock Market Closed on MLK Day?

Both the stock markets and bond markets will have Monday off as the nation honors civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
January 15, 2022
Stock Market Today (1/14/22): Financials Hold Back Dow in Mixed Friday Session
Stock Market Today

Stock Market Today (1/14/22): Financials Hold Back Dow in Mixed Friday Session

Negative post-earnings reactions in some bank stocks, as well as a lousy December retail sales report, weighed on the industrial average.
January 14, 2022