Investing is exciting, and it's easy to get caught up in the promise of fast money. That being said, investment fraud is unfortunately all too common - especially among seniors. Sadly, many scammers attempt to prey on older people, as they believe they may be able to get easy money this way. It's important to take the following five steps to ensure that you or an older loved one are not the victim of an investment scam.
1. Do your research and ask questions. Be sure to do some research on the company you're going to trust with your money. Many fraudulent organizations simply prey on the fact that many people do not look into the company before they hand over their assets. Research the company online, and talk to family, friends and fellow investors to ensure that someone you trust has heard of the company before. If an investment deal sounds too good to be true, remember - it probably is.
2. Know the salesperson and be wary of smooth talkers. Do not trust a salesperson or investor simply because they "sound" professional. Scammers are successful because they know how to gain seniors' trust. Research your salesperson by visiting the online databases of the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FIRA). You'll be able to see the disciplinary record of your salesperson or broker without paying a fee.
3. Stay involved and take your time. Never trust a salesperson who tells you to hand over your money and leave the rest to them! You want to stay involved throughout the entire process, and a trustworthy salesperson or broker will be more than happy to take their time and explain each step of the process to you. If you feel rushed or bullied, you are not working with a trustworthy broker. If the salesperson is telling you that you only have a short time to make financial decisions, it's likely that he or she is pressuring you for their own benefit. As you know from building your retirement, growing your assets takes time. It's rare that you'll be able to significantly grow your money overnight.
4. Don't accept unsolicited offers. If you receive mail, a phone call, a fax, or see something online about an investment company, but cannot find any other information about the company, it's likely that the "company" is participating in a scam. It's also important to be extra-cautious of "off-shore" investments - when these deals go bad, it becomes extremely difficult to get your money back.5. When all else fails - COMPLAIN. If you feel you have been treated unfairly, step up and say something. In doing so, you are saving other seniors from being scammed. File complaints with the SEC, FINRA, or your local regulatory agency. And it's always a good idea to consult with an experienced attorney who can evaluate your situation and determine if you have been the victim of financial fraud.