Securities hotline protects you from fraud

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Elliot Raphaelson

It’s no secret that many people reach retirement with a nest egg inadequate to last the rest of their expected life. Many will be looking for investments with above-average rates of return.

But higher returns requires assuming higher risk. This can make retirees especially vulnerable to fraud.

Studies have shown that people start losing mental capacity after age 70. After 85, it can be much worse.

Accordingly, it may be dangerous for older investors to initiate new types of investments, and they may be especially susceptible to promises of high returns from questionable financial salespersons.

For all of these reasons, investors should take advantage of the support of independent parties to help them make intelligent investment decisions.

FINRA, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority — the largest independent regulator for all securities firms doing business in the U.S. — can help. Its activities touch every aspect of the securities business, and it administers the largest dispute resolution forum for investors and firms.

Impartial portfolio review

FINRA operates the Securities Helpline for Seniors at 1-844-574-3577. The helpline informs investors how to review their investment portfolio and account statements, and it addresses concerns about the handling of a brokerage account.

The group’s website (www. finra.org) provides several investor tools and resources, such as BrokerCheck — a research tool that provides investors valuable information about brokerage firms and individual brokers, such as recent work history, qualifications, state licenses, regulatory actions, and violations and complaints.

Since the helpline was initiated in 2015, FINRA has received more than 7,000 questions and complaints from people in all age groups. These calls have resulted in more than $2.6 million in voluntary reimbursements from firms to callers.

Callers were concerned about products associated with variable annuities, mutual funds, real estate investment trusts (REITs) and energy-sector investments.

Thanks to these calls, FINRA has been able to identify frauds associated with taxes, bogus lottery wins, fake check scams, and binary options. FINRA reports examples of these frauds on its website as “investor alerts.”

Here are two examples: If you receive a call from the IRS, it is fraudulent — the IRS will never contact you by phone. Neither will they ask you to wire transfer funds.

FINRA points out that binary options (a type of option, but considered by some regulators to be a form of gambling) are high risk. Often the product offered is fraudulent.

When you initiate a complaint to FINRA on its helpline, it can result in an investigation. If FINRA discovers fraudulent activity that is not under its jurisdiction, it will report that information to the appropriate regulator or Adult Protective Services (APS) organization.

FINRA has made 110 referrals to 16 APS agencies and to additional state agencies; 483 other issues have been referred to state, federal and foreign regulators.

Better investment information

Many of the callers to the helpline are looking for additional information about products they are being solicited to buy. FINRA provides additional sources to callers so they can do better research before committing to buy.

Other agencies can also provide important information about possible fraud in financial and other products, for example: AARP, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s Office of Investor Education, NASAA’s Serving our Seniors, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Unfortunately, most scams are reported after they have already ensnared many victims. If you are uncertain about the value of a product being offered to you — or the reliability of the organization or individual selling it to you — take advantage of the resources of FINRA and other independent agencies before you buy.

If you have family members who you suspect may lose, or are losing, mental capacity, do what you can to make sure that they do not make any new financial transactions without input from you or an independent organization such as FINRA.

Elliot Raphaelson welcomes your questions and comments at raphelliot@gmail.com.

© 2016 Elliot Raphaelson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.