Below are some steps you can take to avoid becoming a victim of investment fraud.
Hang up the phone if you're not interested
Con artists will not hesitate to exploit the good manners of the potential victim. Remember that a stranger who calls and asks for your money is to be regarded with utmost caution and skepticism. You have absolutely no obligation to stay on the phone with a stranger who wants your money. It's not impolite to say you are not interested and hang up.
Don't rush, verify licenses and research the investment
Say no to any salesperson that pressures you to make an immediate decision. If he or she doesn’t have the time to explain the investment to your regular investment professional, or other party, or if they ask “Can’t you make your own investment decisions?” Say NO! You have the right and responsibility to check out the salesperson, firm, and the investment opportunity itself. Almost all investment opportunities must be registered with DFI. Extensive background information on investment professionals and firms is available from DFI.
Call the DFI’s Securities Division at 360-902-8760 or 1-877-RING DFI (1-877-746-4334) to check the license of the investment professional and registration of the investment product.
Always stay in charge of your money
Don't be taken in by anyone who wants your money and assures you that he or she is a professional and can handle everything. Beware of any financial professional who suggests putting your money into something you don’t understand. And never let yourself be talked into leaving everything in his or her hands.
Always watch over and protect your nest egg
Never trust anyone who wants you to turn over your money to them and then sit back and wait for results. If you understand little about the world of investments, take the time to educate yourself. Constant vigilance is a necessary part of being an investor.
Never judge a person’s integrity by how they look or sound
Far too many investors who are wiped out by con artists later explain that the swindler “looked and sounded so professional." Successful con artists sound extremely professional and have the ability to make even the flimsiest investment deal sound as safe as putting money in the bank. Remember that sincerity in a voice, especially on the phone, has no bearing on the soundness of an investment opportunity. Always do the necessary homework.
Watch out for salespeople that prey on your fears
Con artists know that many investors, particularly older investors, worry that they will either outlive their savings or see all of their financial resources vanish overnight as the result of a catastrophic event. It's quite common for swindlers and abusive salespeople to pitch their schemes as a way to build up life savings to the point where such fears are no longer necessary. Remember that fear and greed can cloud your good judgment and leave you in a much worse financial posture. An investment that is right for you will make sense because you understand it and feel comfortable with the degree of risk involved. High return almost always means high risk.
Exercise particular caution if you have limited or no experience handling money
Ask a con artist to describe his ideal victim and you're likely to hear "elderly widow or widower." Many people now in their retirement years have limited knowledge about handling money. They often relied on their spouses to handle most or all money decisions. Those who have received windfall insurance in the wake of the death of a spouse are prime targets for con artists. People who are on their own for the first time in years should always seek advice of family members or impartial professionals before deciding what to do with their money.
Monitor your investments and ask tough questions
Too many investors trust unscrupulous investment professionals and outright con artists to make financial decisions for them. They then compound their error by failing to keep an eye on the progress of the investment. Insist on regular written reports. Check the written information. Look for excessive or unauthorized trading in your funds. Don’t be swayed by assurances that such practices are routine or in your best interest. Don’t permit a sense of friendship or trust to keep you from demanding this information. If you suspect something is wrong and you don’t get satisfactory answers, call DFI and let us help.
Look for trouble retrieving your principal or cashing out profits
If a stockbroker, financial planner, or other individual stalls you when you want to pull out your principal or profits, demand to know why. Since unscrupulous investment promoters have probably pocketed the funds of their victims, they will go to great lengths to explain why your savings are not available. They may even pressure you to “roll over” non-existent profits into new and even more alluring investments. This will only further delay the fraud being uncovered. If you're not investing in a product with a fixed term, such as a bond, you should be able to receive your funds or profits within a reasonable amount of time.
Don’t let embarrassment or fear keep you from reporting investment fraud or abuse
Investors who fail to report that they've been victimized often hesitate out of embarrassment. Older investors fear they'll be judged incapable of handling their own affairs and be forced into a nursing home or other facility. Sophisticated investors don't want to admit that a smooth talker took them in. Con artists know all about such sensitivities.
They count on these fears preventing or delaying the time when the authorities will be notified about the scam. It's true that most money lost to investment fraud is rarely recovered beyond pennies on the dollar. In many cases, however, when investors recognized early that they'd been misled, they were able to recover some or all of their funds by being a “squeaky wheel”.
Beware of promises of high rates of return and/or quick profits
Con artists know what appeals to people. If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. The higher the return, the higher the risk. There is no such thing as a no risk investment.
Ask for prospectus or offering circular
If they tell you that a prospectus or offering circular isn't necessary, hang up or walk away. Even if it isn't necessary, never invest in something until you have written material about the company and the investment and have taken the time to check it out.
Talk to a disinterested third person party
If you are interested in the investment, take the time to talk with a third party, disinterested person. Talk to your regular stockbroker, your attorney, your accountant, or any other reputable consultant.